Michael Sam's announcement prompts some ADs, coaches to review school policy on gay athletes

The Associated Press

FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2011, file photo, Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam takes up his position during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against the Western Illinois in Columbia, Mo. But since the Missouri All-American defensive end said he was an “openly, proud gay man,” college athletic directors and coaches have been forced to review protocols on their campuses. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson, File)

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By STEVE REED, AP Sports Writer

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 because of privacy, he said there is no exact protocol for how to handle a situation like the one that arose with Michael Sam.

This week, the Missouri All-American defensive end publicly said he was an "openly, proud gay man."

Among the questions facing athletic directors, coaches and administrators in the wake of Sam's announcement is how to teach tolerance and acceptance of gay athletes within the athletic department.

"It does cause you to go back and evaluate," said Troy AD 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 Miami Dolphins bullying scandal. An investigation order by the NFL detailed Dolphins players being the targets of vicious taunts and gay slurs.

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 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.

"We'd probably give that young man a, 'Hey, this is what's being said. If it doesn't change for the betterment of the family, then you're going to be suspended,'" Beckman said.

Said SMU athletic director Rick Hart said in the locker room athletes have to think "Are we crossing that line between bonding (with) teammates and having fun, and kind of ribbing each other to the point where things are hurtful and we need to put a stop to that."

Sam isn't the first football player to declare he's gay.

Freeze, who has coached two players he knew were gay, says, "On the teams we've coached, we always talk about how you treat others.

"In all cases, there is never a time that making someone feel bad is the way to go about it, regardless of what your view is.," the Mississippi coach said. "People deserve respect and we preach that daily. Hopefully that is the way we attack every situation."

Sometimes that's easier said than done.

Last October, several Ole Miss students, including about 20 football players, were reprimanded for interrupting a school-run play "The Laramie Project" with gay slurs. The play was based on the 1998 murder of the gay college student.

The school said all students at the play had to attend an "educational dialogue session."

Indiana has taken a proactive approach.

Last month the school held a gay pride night at a women's basketball game.

"The main thing is to bring it out in the open so that anybody dealing with an issue that needs to be accommodated can bring it forward whether it's an LGBT issue, an eating disorder, which is pretty common in college athletics, so we can try and create an environment that welcomes them," Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said.