Story by the Associated Press; curated by Dave Urbanski

CLEVELAND (AP) — The greatest players and coaches in NFL history said they believe openly gay defensive end Michael Sam, expected to be drafted next week, will be accepted in the league.

Missouri’s All-American defensive end Michael Sam claps during the Cotton Bowl trophy presentation at halftime of an NCAA college basketball game between Missouri and Tennessee in Columbia, Mo. (Image source: AP/L.G. Patterson, File)

Former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders, Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy and other members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame applauded Sam’s courage to step forward and said Saturday at the hall’s Fan Fest that the former Missouri player will be welcomed by whichever team selects him.

“I assume there were gay guys [when I played],” Sanders said, noted ESPN. “I’ve heard of guys that were gay back then. But certainly there’s been a shift in public opinion and what have you. I’m assuming it may have been different [had a player come out during my career].”

Cornerback Michael Haynes said the timing of Sam’s decision to reveal his sexuality was good because players, coaches, and other staff seem more tolerant than those of earlier generations.

“I think he’ll get drafted. I think he’ll have a great NFL career,” Haynes told the sports network. “I think he’s a very bold guy to come out, but the timing is good. If he would’ve come out in the ’60s or ’70s, things may be not so good because everybody was really struggling with how to understand differences like that in people. Diversity has become a critical topic. People are talking about it all the time. But I think the world is a different world.”

Levy, who led the Bills to four straight appearances in the Super Bowl, said his only consideration in drafting Sam would be “is he the best guy at his position when we’re on the board?”

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