Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has coached gay players before during his 20-year career.
Though Freeze declined to name the two players he coached before arriving on Mississippi’s campus, he said there is no exact protocol for how to handle a situation like the one that arose with Michael Sam.
But since the Missouri All-American defensive end publicly said he was an “openly, proud gay man,” college athletic directors and coaches have been forced to review protocols on their campuses.
“It does cause you to go back and evaluate,” said Troy athletic director John Hartwell. “One of the first things I did was go back to our senior staff and say, ‘OK, let’s look at our policy. Let’s make sure we don’t have any issues here.’”
Like many of the 10 athletic directors who responded to inquiries by The Associated Press, Hartwell said Troy believes in nurturing diversity and fostering respect for every individual.
“Because at the end of the day, you’re going to have teammates that are of a different race than you are, of a different nationality, of a different economic background, possibly of a different sexual orientation – with a whole variety of beliefs,” Hartwell said.
Still, football locker rooms lend themselves to being ripe with machismo and bravado, places where jabs involving one’s sexual orientation are fairly commonplace – even if meant in a harmless manner.
But the jabs could lead to potential conflicts, as evidenced by the Richie Incognito scandal in Miami.
Among the questions facing administrators in the wake of Sam’s announcement is not only how to teach tolerance and acceptance of gay athletes within the athletic department, but how to enforce it.
Illinois football coach Tim Beckman said if a player did use a gay slur against another teammate he’d first ask the team’s “honor council” – a group of 14 players selected by teammates – to address the situation.
Likely, he said, the player insulting a teammate would be told to correct his behavior and be given a second chance. If the players’ group didn’t take what he considered to be appropriate action, Beckman said he’d step in and take steps himself.
TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said what Sam did was brave and will create change.
Del Conte added it also shows athletic directors need to be prepared if athletes come to them ready to announce they’re gay.
“In today’s society, it’s more of a media (thing) – are you prepared for the media?” Del Conte said. “And if you’re not, let’s give you the tools necessary to help you.”
Then he pulled out the most recent Sports Illustrated with Sam on the cover.
Del Conte said, “You’d have to be prepared for that.”