The other night my wife and I were watching “42” – the movie about Jackie Robinson’s introduction into major league baseball as its first black athlete.

In 1947, the year Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, the world shifted and accepted the eventuality that African American athletes were to be joined side by side by white athletes on the same playing field.

The world shifted, but did not come to an end.

So too it is in 2014, although the newest minority to join the ranks of professional sports will be gay athletes.

Not that gays haven’t already done so – it’s just that they’ve never announced their sexual preference to the world. And while there was never a prohibition on allowing gays to play alongside straight athletes; the fact is that gays would not have been welcomed in the locker room.

That’s the reason why I ask whether or not it matters to any athlete, professional or collegiate, what the sexual preference of your teammate is.

Last week I blogged about the announcement made by Willamette University (Ore.) placekicker, redshirt freshman Conner Mertens, announcing that’s he’s bisexual.
Perhaps that’s not such a big deal in that he’s not draft eligible.

But in the case of Michael Sam, the Missouri defensive lineman, there’s the possibility that next year he could be playing on a bigger stage in front of nationwide TV audiences.

Missouri All-American Michael Sam says he is gay, and the defensive end could become the first openly homosexual player in the NFL.

In interviews with ESPN, The New York Times and Outsports that were published Sunday, Sam said his teammates and coaches at Missouri have known since August.
“I am an openly, proud gay man,” he said.

The 255-pound Sam participated in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last month after leading the SEC in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (19), and he is projected to be a mid-round NFL draft pick.
“It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be … I want to be a football player in the NFL,” he said in the interviews.

There have been numerous NFL players who have come out after their playing days, including Kwame Harris and Dave Kopay.

Last year, NBA player Jason Collins announced he was gay after the season. Collins, a 35-year-old backup center, was a free agent and has not signed with a new team this season. MLS star and U.S. national team player Robbie Rogers also came out a year ago.

(As stated) Division III Willamette kicker Conner Mertens, a redshirt freshman, said last month he was bisexual.

“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” the NFL said in statement. “Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”

Sam said many people at the Senior Bowl all-star game for NFL prospects seemed to know that he was gay.

“I didn’t realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid that someone would tell or leak something out about me,” he told ESPN. “I want to own my truth. … No one else should tell my story but me.”

Before coming out to all his teammates and coaches, Sam said he told a few close friends and dated another Missouri athlete who was not a football player.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said in a statement Sunday night he was proud of Sam and how he represented the program.

“Michael is a great example of just how important it is to be respectful of others, he’s taught a lot of people here first-hand that it doesn’t matter what your background is, or your personal orientation, we’re all on the same team and we all support each other,” Pinkel said. “If Michael doesn’t have the support of his teammates like he did this past year, I don’t think there’s any way he has the type of season he put together.”

Missouri linebacker Donovan Bonner has been a teammate of Sam’s for five years.
Bonner tweeted, “we knew of his status for 5 years and not one team member, coach, or staff member said anything says a lot about our family atmosphere.”

Whether or not that “family atmosphere” extends to an NFL locker room remains to be seen.

But the question is – were you a collegiate or professional athelete, could you readily accept a teammate openly admitting he is gay or bi – or would you prefer them not publicizing it?

And as a fan, would it matter to you if the team you root for had on its roster an openly gay player.