New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma appeared on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 on Monday night to try and clarify recent comments he made about doubting if an openly gay NFL player would be widely accepted in the NFL.
Vilma's first comments appeared earlier this month on a NFL Network special about locker room culture, in which he said, "I think that he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted. I don't want people to just naturally assume, like, 'Oh, we're all homophobic.' That's really not the case. ... Imagine if he's the guy next to me and, you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond?"
Vilma's comments were widely circulated Monday after Missouri defensive end Michael Sam said that he is gay, which will likely make Sam the first openly gay player in the NFL once he is drafted in May.
So Vilma said on Twitter that he was appearing on the CNN program because, “I definitely need to clear the air.”
During the CNN interview, Vilma apologized for his shower example and described it as a “poor choice” and a “poor illustration.”
“There is no concern. The point I was trying to make or the context I was trying to take it in is that I've never been put in that situation. No player in the NFL has been put in that situation. So it's not as simple as anyone saying, ‘Well, there's nothing wrong with it,'” Vilma said. “I don't see anything wrong with it. You have other players that may, you have other players that may not. I don't know, and the players don't know because this is the first time that you have a Michael Sam, who will by all accounts be drafted, openly gay, come into a locker room. No one in the NFL for the past however many years has experienced this before, so this is all new to everybody. This is new territory.”
Earlier in the interview, Vilma made a similar point: “I was trying to explain that whenever you present someone like a Michael Sam, who is extremely, extremely confident and a powerful man in himself within his own rights, into an NFL culture that's used to one thing, there's going to naturally be that first level, first wave of resistance before you have the transition.”
When asked what specifically will lead to resistance, Vilma said, “Because you have many different dynamics within the locker room. You have people that can be more outgoing, more open-minded. You have people that are a little more close-minded. Some people grew up with or without the acceptance of gays within their families. You have a lot of different elements within the locker room that you just don't see right now. Me being on the inside for 10 years, inside the locker room, I've been around that.
“And it's not to say that the locker rooms are bad. It's to say that there are going to be people that accept it willingly as soon as he comes in, welcome him with open arms. And then unfortunately, there will be some -- I'm about 99 percent sure the minority -- will say, well, they're not comfortable with that yet, they don't know how to respond to that. That's just what's going to happen in the first whatever, the first year, two years. (When) you have more players like Michael Sam coming out and saying that they're gay, the transition will be a lot smoother.”
Vilma was later asked in the interview if he really thinks he has never showered with a gay teammate before.
“That's the funny thing about it, I looked back on my transcript when I was interviewed by Andrea Kremer. And she said that,” Vilma said of a portion of the NFL Network interview that didn't air. “She said, ‘You really don't think anyone's gay?' And I said, ‘Of course, odds are that you have 2 percent, 5 percent of the locker room is gay.' And she said, ‘Do you think they're looking at you?' I was like, ‘I'm not that good looking, so I don't think they're looking at me, and that's neither here nor there.' So I'm well aware that the stats say that. But the facts are that no player before Michael Sam has come out before getting drafted or during his career in the NFL and openly said, ‘I am gay.' And I'm sticking strictly to that context.”
Vilma later added, “As I told Andrea Kremer in that interview, as long as he can play football, I am A-OK with it. It doesn't bother me at all.”
Vilma also said that he doesn't think the culture in the locker room would be difficult for a guy like Sam, because, “You can tell (Sam) is extremely comfortable, extremely confident in himself, he's a very good football player. So there is nothing for him to be worried about. He's going to step in and he's going to play football and he's going to be a football player. That's exactly what he is. For other guys, who may not be as strong-minded, strong-willed as a Michael Sam, they may be a little timid, and then there may be times they don't know how to react or assert themselves or whatever the situation is.”
When asked what he would say to his teammates if the Saints drafted Sam, Vilma (who is scheduled to be a free agent next month), said, “There's really nothing to say. The first thing that matters is, ‘Can he play football?' ... For me as a captain, it's really about holding everybody accountable to the level that we set.”