From the four letter network to Twitter, the sports world is abuzz with opinions and observations concerning how Sam will integrate into the NFL. This got me thinking about how Sam would be received by the Green Bay Packers and Packers Nation.
I’ll get right to the point. I think if there is one organization and one fan base that would treat Michael Sam with the respect he deserves it’s the Green Bay Packers.
There is a phrase that is often stated regarding how the Packers go about their business. This phrase embraces prudence, reverence and above all, winning football games. Put simply, that phrase is “The Packer Way.”
The seeds of the Packer Way were sown by the legendary Vince Lombardi. His philosophies on both football and life are deeply engrained into the culture of the Green Bay Packers.
Lombardi was the coach and general manager in Green Bay from 1959 to 1968. His career straddled some of the most volatile moments of race relations in American history. Lombardi’s stance against prejudice is well chronicled.
Jerry Kramer made note of it in his iconic book, “Instant Replay.” Kramer tells a story of a time the team played an exhibition game in the South and the restaurant insisted that the black players enter and exit through the back door. Lombardi then proceeded to walk the whole team through the back door.
Kramer went onto write, “Vince doesn’t care what color a man is as long as he can play football, as long as he can help us win, and all the players feel the same way. That’s what being a Green Bay Packer is all about—winning—and we don’t let anything get in the way of it.”
In a recent interview, Willie Davis spoke about a conversation he had with Lombardi early on his career with the Packers. Davis relayed that Vince Lombardi was concerned with having the best football players on the field, not whether they were black or white.
In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Tom Silverstein relayed the sentiment of current Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy regarding Michael Sam. McCarthy stated, “Ted (Thompson) and them are going through the draft process right now. At the end of the day, it comes down to good football players. Any player who can come here, be a good teammate, follow the rules of our program, which is one, be respectful and produce on the football field, we have room for that guy.” McCarthy also complimented Sam on his courage.
Though the issues that Lombardi and McCarthy had and have to address are different, they are both fundamentally about the same thing, which is the acceptance of human differences. From McCarthy’s response one can glean that the principle’s put forward by Lombardi are still held in high regard today in Green Bay.
Michael Sam having the mettle to be who he is and not conceal a basic function of his human experience is admirable. All of us know that there will be more than a few fans, players and coaches that will think less of Sam because he is gay. They will think he is weak in some way. But I would say to play a sport that requires a warrior mentality and do so without feeling shame for his sexual orientation makes him the toughest man on the field.
Most importantly, if he can get after the quarterback and take some pressure off of Clay Matthews I would be more than happy to have Sam in Green and Gold.