The NFL Players Association isn't expecting any issues as a result of Michael Sam's decision to announce his sexual orientation last weekend. But the union is prepared either way.
"I feel pretty strongly that it won't be an issue," said NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth, whose term is up in March. "But even a couple years ago, we were having conversations with players about it, we've had those publicly. Those are good conversations for our society. I've always felt like the great thing about sports is you can take these social issues, and put them on the forefront.
"And there have been times the last couple years when we've broached the topic and we haven't gotten the response we've liked. But that's happened less and less."
Sam's decision to come out wasn't wholly unexpected by the union. Foxworth wouldn't say whether or not Sam gave the union a heads up before his announcement, but he did concede that like many in the public, the union believed there would be an openly gay player in the NFL soon.
"I'm excited we're so close now," he said, "so we can actually put all this behind us and move forward."
The union president is confident that the steps the NFLPA has taken over the last couple years -- and some of the bumps it has endured -- will help to provide solid footing for Sam.
One such bump came last summer, when the union marketed T-shirts that showed a rainbow-colored NFLPA logo in support of gay pride. Many players supported the cause, but a number of players reached out to the union to voice concerns about the project.
"Some guys took it as a political statement," Foxworth said. "But it was just about tolerance and acceptance. And we got calls from a couple guys, and I explained where we stood."
The hope for Foxworth, and by extension the union, is that Sam's story sparks discussion within each of the league's teams -- discussion he says he knows has happened at some level with all 32 clubs already -- and that eases the transition with whatever team drafts Sam.
Foxworth also defended the NFL's locker-room culture, saying that the "forced integration" that happens in football -- in high school, college and the pros -- makes it, in many ways, more tolerant than many other walks of society. And he thinks the league's youth will help as well.
"One of things that's challenging about working in the NFL and with the Players Association is how constant the turnover is, and how young the group is because of it," Foxworth said. "But in this case, it works to our advantage. We generally have a younger and younger population, and those guys are definitely more tolerant."
Foxworth also made clear that, as much as Sam needs it, the union will be there to help.
"It's important that we put pressure on the teams to uphold all that the players are entitled to in a safe and respectful working environment," he said. "That's incumbent on us. It's my goal personally, and the goal of a lot of people on my staff to make sure that remains the case here. This one's a big deal, but it's what we'd do for any player that would need protection in any situation."