After Michael Sam, a football star at Missouri and an NFL prospect, told the rest of the world what he told his Tigers teammates during two-a-day drills in August — that he was gay — people began to pontificate whether the NFL was ready for an openly gay player.
Well, the great Vince Lombardi was, and Lombardi seemed like an old-fashioned guy if there ever was one.
I found a story on NBCSports.com, written last year, that said Lombardi knew he had gay players. He not only tolerated them but supported them.
According to Lombardi’s biography, written by David Maraniss, Lombardi had a running back with the Redskins named Ray McDonald, who had been arrested for having sex with another man in public.
“And if I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood, you’ll be out of here before your ass hits the ground,” Lombardi was said to have told the other Redskins.
Dave Kopay, the first NFL player to come out (of only four) after his career ended, had a relationship with Jerry Smith, the Redskins’ All-Pro tight end. Kopay told Ian O’Connor of ESPNNewYork.com that he believed Lombardi knew this.
Vince Lombardi had a brother who was gay. So it’s possible that influenced his tolerance of gay players.
But Lombardi also hated discrimination against his African-American players. He had a rule that any restaurant that would not serve his black players was off-limits to the other Packers.
Lombardi did not, as far as I know, have a brother who was black.
The story, which came out after former NBA player Jason Collins came out, quoted Lombardi’s daughter Susan saying that her father was ahead of his time, and that a guy like Collins could have played for him.
It can be assumed that a guy like Michael Sam could have played for Vince Lombardi, too. That is, provided he can tackle the ball carrier and rush the quarterback like Willie Davis or Ray Nitschke could.