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D. Orlando Ledbetter

Smith believes NFL players would respect Sam as an openly gay player

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Falcons coach Mike Smith at the NFL scouting combine. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/dledbetter@ajc.com)

Falcons coach Mike Smith at the NFL scouting combine. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/dledbetter@ajc.com)

INDIANAPOLIS – Falcons coach Mike Smith, as head coach of the North team in the Senior Bowl, is an authority on defensive end/linebacker Michael Sam, who recently announced that he’s a gay football player.

Smith was asked about Sam the football player and how an openly gay player would fit in a NFL locker room.

“First and foremost, when you evaluate a football player, you evaluate them on what you see on the field,” Smith said on Thursday. “A player’s personal life is not something that you concern yourself with. You are evaluating the player.”

The Falcons worked out Sam, the SEC’s co-defensive player of the year, as a defensive end and linebacker at the Senior Bowl.

“He played defensive end at the University of Missouri,” Smith said. “He was co-defensive player of the year at that position. We got an opportunity to see him do both positions. He was much more comfortable playing the defensive end position, but there are a number of teams that have projected him as an outside linebacker.

“I know that he is more comfortable with playing with his hand in the dirt. We, as a coaching staff, moved him from both defensive end and outside linebacker in that game simply because we knew the entire league wanted to evaluate him as OLB or a defensive end.”

Smith shared his view of the NFL locker room and how Sam might fit.

“The locker room, I believe this, you win in the locker room,” Smith said. “Every locker room has to have the element of respect. You have to respect one another. It’s all about winning. We get 16 opportunities to show what we are capable of doing. If a guy can come in a help us win football games, that’s all we can concern ourselves with.”

Sam would likely fit in the Falcons locker room.

“I know this, our locker room is built on respect and respect for one another,” Smith said. “That’s the most important thing. I think that you (must) have mentors throughout the locker room.

“It’s not just the players’ locker room. It’s the organization’s locker room. There are a lot of people who interact in the locker room besides the players in Atlanta. You have the equipment staff, the training staff, the (public relations) staff and the coaching staff.”

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