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VOL. 38 | NO. 8 | Friday, February 21, 2014

Former Titan Sanders offers support for gay player

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Harris

The decision last week by former University of Missouri linebacker Michael Sam to reveal himself as, potentially, the first openly gay player to play in the NFL created plenty of conversation and provoked plenty of emotion.

Yes, there have been a few players who came out after their careers had ended, and a handful of others who were suspected. But Sam’s declaration in advance of this week’s NFL Combine and the May draft has certainly sparked debate.

Most of the talk has centered on how Sam will be accepted inside the macho world of an NFL locker room, a place where boys will be boys, and insults and taunting can cross already-blurred lines, as was the case in the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin matter with the Miami Dolphins.

One of the big questions is how Sam will be accepted by those in the locker room, especially those who disagree with his lifestyle.

Some who disapprove of homosexuality, based on religious or personal beliefs, might prefer to keep quiet in order to keep from being labeled intolerant or homophobic.

“Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson might have wished he had chosen that route.

Former Titans receiver Chris Sanders, a devout Christian, says the key for him and other Christian players is to try and be Christ-like and professional.

“It’s all in how you approach it,” says Sanders, who now coaches football and track and is athletic department liaison at Montgomery Bell Academy.

“I look at it like this. I’ve got a job to do, and the thing about it is, I would have to be a professional and accept him as a teammate, even if I don’t agree with the lifestyle.

“I’m not trying to preach, but how can I say I love Jesus, whom I haven’t seen, and not love my brother, whom I have seen.

“As a Christian, I’m called to be an imitator of Christ, and Christ loved the person but didn’t love the sin. I don’t hate the person; I just don’t agree with the lifestyle.”

Sanders says he disagreed with many teammates over the years concerning how they conducted themselves off the field, but their differences never got in the way of the work that had to be done in order to play football.

It can be a fine line, but differences have to be checked at the door to separate the personal from the professional, Sanders says.

“It’s very complicated, but it’s your job to come and do the best job you can as a player, regardless,” Sanders explains. “I didn’t smoke and I didn’t drink, but there were guys on the team that did. But they were still my teammates. It was just that when they wanted to go out, that was something I didn’t do.

“It’s about being professional, and my profession was to be the best wide receiver I could and to catch passes from Steve McNair, whether I agreed with what he or any of my other teammates did off the field or not.”

So what about accepting Sam as a teammate?

“If this guy is my teammate, even though I disagree with him, I’m still his teammate, so heck, yes, I’m gonna support him when we’re on the field,” Sanders says.

Beyond support in the locker room and on the field, Sanders says it is important that Christians stand up for their faith, but to do so in a loving way.

“Sometimes we as Christians can be standoffish about things, but we have to remember that the same grace God has given me is the same grace that other people need.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is a blogger for National Football Post.

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