I spoke with Terrell Thomas on Tuesday night. We have been working on a project for later in the week about Michael Sam, the NFL draft prospect who came out as gay Sunday, and I reached out to Thomas because I know him to be a thoughtful guy who might have something interesting to say on the topic. He had a lot to say, most of it about his belief that Sam could have a tough time in NFL locker rooms because of his announcement.
"I think society is ready for it and America's ready for it, but I don't think the NFL is," Thomas said. "As a player, all you want to know is if he can play. That's on the field. But in the locker room, it's different. There's a lot of talk and joking around, and some guys walk around completely naked all the time, and they might not want to do that anymore. When you add that situation to the mix, I think it's going to make some people uncomfortable."
I was kind of surprised by Thomas' take, and told him as much, but he stood by it. My own experience in NFL locker rooms and around NFL players has led me to believe they're more tolerant than many people give them credit for being, and Thomas is the kind of guy who generally helps support that belief in my mind. But he's genuinely conflicted on this, and I believe he was speaking analytically about the locker room culture as he sees it -- not speaking in a manner angry or hurtful toward Sam specifically. That doesn't mean I agree with his take, but it's worth hearing his reasoning because, as I said, he's thought it through. I even asked him why he thought Sam's University of Missouri teammates accepted him so openly but an NFL team would not.
"That's the hardest question. If a bunch of 18-year-olds can accept him, why can’t a bunch of grown men?" Thomas said. "I just think it's different when you put him in an NFL locker room with a bunch of grown men the way we are around each other, and with people who don't already know him. Their locker room accepted him, but at the same time, their locker room knew him before he came out. If he would have said it after his second year in the league, things might be different. But to come in as a rookie who nobody knows and have this be the big story, that could make it tough for some people to handle. It's going to put people on edge. Not necessarily make everybody uncomfortable, but maybe guys just might not know how to act."
Disappointing if true, but I'm not going to be one of those who jumps on Thomas' case for his opinion. It's his, and he has the right to it, and this is a discussion that's just beginning and isn't always going to go the way people want it to go. I appreciate Thomas' time and his openness.
On a Giants-related note, Thomas is an unrestricted free agent and says he has not had any contact yet with the team. He expects his agent to talk to the Giants prior to the March 11 start of free agency, but he doesn't expect to sign prior to hitting the open market.
"I know my agent will talk to them, and if they come back with something that's extremely favorable, I'd sign it," Thomas said. "But more than likely, I'm going to hit the market. I feel I owe it to myself, and I think the Giants understand that and would agree."
Thomas played a full season in 2013 after missing the 2011 and 2012 seasons following two separate ACL surgeries on his right knee. He's had three of those in total, and they have delayed his free-agent payday. I'm not sure what the market will be for Thomas given his health concerns, but he says he's enjoying his first real, non-rehab offseason in a long time and is eager to find out. It's possible he could be back with the Giants in 2014, but as of now they appear to be focused on other of their own free agents, including linebacker Jon Beason, safety Stevie Brown and running back Andre Brown.