Recruits open to gay teammates

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel knew the question was coming. Even though it had been six months since Tigers defensive lineman Michael Sam publicly announced he was gay and became the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL, Pinkel understood he was going to be asked about the declaration at SEC media days.

When asked about how the announcement affected his program, Pinkel talked about how he believed the people at Missouri handled themselves with class the days and weeks after Sam came out. But then he paused midway through his answer for a few moments, collected his thoughts and said he hopes five years from now a player's sexual orientation isn't even a topic.

"I hope that we've moved on," Pinkel said. "And we respect people for what they are and what they do."

It might not take five years to get to that point, though, at least with the players that will soon be in college locker rooms.

ESPN.com conducted a wide-ranging survey of the top 300 high school football recruits in the nation, and 72.9 percent of the respondents said they would select a program where there is an openly gay player on the roster. Interviews conducted at The Opening with a number of the nation's elite recruits from different high schools all over the country backed up the results.

"It doesn't really bother me," said Apopka, Florida, offensive tackle Martez Ivey, the nation's No. 2 ranked prospect. "If they were gay and came out, honestly most everybody at our school would already know. People don't seem to be too shy about expressing themselves anymore, especially when you're in high school. If it doesn't affect them, then why should it affect me? Who cares who he likes?"

Offensive tackle Matt Burrell Jr., a four-star player from Woodbridge, Virginia, said he was a little bit surprised with the results of the survey, but with an openly gay family member, he was pleased that many of college football's future stars "believe in acceptance rather than rejection."

"It would be an honor to play with somebody that has that much confidence to come out when it's still considered wrong by some people," Burrell, the nation's No. 43-ranked player, said. "I have a gay uncle, and I love him for who he is. But I think if you ask a majority of the players in high school they would be OK with it. There will be some that might have some issues with it, but some will always complain about anything. But if you're living in a shell and not happy keeping a secret, then you're not living to your full potential."

Four-star Missouri quarterback commitment Drew Lock and fifth-ranked pocket passing quarterback Sam Darnold both said they would be more concerned about issues like alcohol abuse or smoking pot more than a teammate's sexual orientation.

The views expressed by the recruits mirror nationwide trends, according to Dr. Vincent Pompei, the Director of Youth Well-Being Project at the Human Rights Campaign. Pompei said in June 2012, the HRC -- the nation's largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans -- conducted "Growing up LGBT in America," a survey of more than 10,000 youth ages 13-17.

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