Q&A With Gary Pinkel on Michael Sam Announcement

3 years 6 months 1 week ago Monday, February 10 2014 Feb 10, 2014 Monday, February 10, 2014 4:34:00 PM CST February 10, 2014 in Mizzou Xtra
By: Mihir Bhagat, KOMU 8 Sports Reporter

COLUMBIA - Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel spoke to the media Monday in response to Michael Sam's announcement that he's gay. Here is a select transcript of the interview.

Q: Did Michael have a team meeting?

A: "We have dinners. We call them cross-over dinners. Basically, we take 14 players from all different positions. Guys that generally don't hang around each other. And I'll take them to my house. And Coach [Kuligowski] will take 14 over. And Coach Hill and Henson and everyone will do that. So our whole football team is sitting in homes and what we'll do is we'll eat dinner and I'll look at all 14 guys and say 'I'm Gary Pinkel. I'm from Akron, Ohio.' I'll talk about my family and anything that's happened in my life. James Franklin is next to me. He does the same thing. And we go in-depth. Guys lay it on the line. It's very important because you get an appreciation and understanding of the background of what your teammates have gone through. More often that not, there are a lot of struggles that kids go through. Michael at that time was with a group and I'm not sure which coach but he called me afterwards and said 'Michael came out and told all those players he was gay.' The next morning I got together with the captains and asked how the team was doing. They said fine. I wanted to see Michael obviously so he came in to see me and I said 'Michael, I'm really proud of you and I love you.' I hugged him. We sat down and got Chad [Moller] in there and kind of talked about what he wanted to do. Do you want to announce this? What are you thinking? We discussed scenarios with him. Ultimately, without question, it's your decision. And you think about it tonight and let us know tomorrow. And he came in the next morning, as I recall, and said 'Coach I don't want a distraction here. I want to focus on winning football games. I want the team to have their best year and for me to have my best year.' I said are you sure you want to do that? He said yeah. We honored that and I said 'Whenever you decide to do it. Whenever it is, just let me know and you got my 100% support."

Q: If he had announced mid-season, do you think that would've been a distraction?

A: "Possibly. I think that was a possibility. It possibly would have. I think he didn't want that. I talked to him briefly right after the season was over and he didn't want to do it before the bowl game so I had no idea when it was going to happen. Talking to him last week when he was here, he was down at the Senior Bowl and it was known to most people that he knew he was gay. And he wanted to tell his story. I think it's a great statement by Michael Sam. He wanted to tell his story and it came from him." 

Q: Do you think it will affect his draft stock?

A: "I don't know. I would like to think it wouldn't. This is unchartered territories. I think certainly the NFL recognizes the societal changes like we all do. I would like to think it wouldn't affect it at all. Time will tell where he goes. 

Q: Does the way your team handle it give you hope on how another team might handle it?

A: "It's our core values. We talk about these type of things. I'm a firm believer that one of the great experiences about being in the locker room for football players is the camaraderie. It's just fun to be in the locker room. And guys like to get after each other. I use the term when you start drawing blood. When it starts getting personal, guess what, you go backwards and our whole football team goes backwards. The things I heard happening at the Miami Dolphins, you can't act like that on our team. You can't do that. That doesn't make you a tough guy around here. We're respectful of people. That's the question. What are locker rooms going to be like in the NFL? I don't know how that will be done."

Q: How would you characterize the reaction of his teammates? 

A: "I think overall it was remarkably positive. I think they embraced it. I'm also not naive enough to think that if you have 127 players. Some of the players did not agree. They have their own opinion on it. Probably not in favor of it. But that's okay. It's not about what my opinion on it is either. It's about being respectful to people. If you're part of our family, part of our football program, part of our team. We're going to be respectful of the differences amongst us and embrace and support each other. That's what we do here at Mizzou."

Q: In the interview, he talked about being from Hitchcock, Texas. He said two of his brothers are in jail. One of them was shot down. His sister died when he was two. How do you think that background helps him handle being the first openly gay person in the NFL?

A: "I think it's probably. You go through a lot of different things in life. Those tragedies are such that you get tougher when you go through adversity. I'm sure his mental toughness grew also. We talked about it last August. I use the word 'mammoth' a lot. I don't have a word of how big this is going to be. I think he'll to be fine. It'll be interesting to see things happen and where they go."

Q:  Is it surprising it's taken this long to happen? 

A: "There was going to be a time. I'm sure there are actively gay football players in the NFL right now and I'm sure they're in college football. They choose to do what they want to do. That's certainly up to them. I think for a lot of people, this is a huge step in a positive way. I'm really proud of Michael for his courage."

Q: Donovan Bonner tweeted that he's known for five years. When did you know?

A: "There were so-called rumors that were out there. But that's private stuff. That's all private. We don't ever go into those kind of things. We had heard that those sort of rumors were out there so I think a lot of his roommates were aware of it. But they protect each other. It's pretty amazing how close our team is."

Q: Did you ever have to have a conversation with Sam or anyone else to say 'Hey, this is not appropriate in the locker room'? 

A: No. Nothing like that, ever. Nothing. 

Q: Have you ever had players in the past who were gay who kept it down but you knew about it? 

A: I've never known of another player who was gay ever on any one of my teams."

Q: You knew about this in August. Were you worried at any point that someone was going to run their mouth and it would become this big public thing during the season? 

A: "It never came up. We didn't tell our players don't tell anybody. That never happened. Ever. We didn't say anything to our players about it. We did it confidentially. Our players embraced it. It was pretty amazing." 

Q: Do you think Michael making the choice to share this with his teammates do anything for him? Did you see any change in him? 

A: "He shares with his teammates and he had the best year he's ever had by far. Consensus All-American, SEC Defensive Player of the Year. You probably have to ask him that but I would suggest it was a load off his back. I know what was really important that his teammates embracing him. It was overwhelming to him. It allowed him to focus on what he needed to do."

Q: Do you think that your peers in your profession feel the same way about welcoming an openly gay player?

A: "I don't know. I would like to think so. To me, shoot, there's a lot of differences between those 127 players. There's race, there's religion, there's all kinds of different things. They all have their opinions on different social issues. We're all different. At the end of the day, you're respectful to people."

Q: How would you have dealt with this situation 20 years ago?

A: "It wouldn't have never happened 20 years ago."

Q: You don't think a player would've came out?

A: "It would have never happened 20 years ago. This is the first time it's ever happened at this level." 

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