BASKETBALL great Charles Barkley has become the latest high-profile sportsperson to slam homophobia in the sports world while speaking up for openly-gay NFL prospect Michael Sam.

Regarded as one of professional basketball’s most outspoken individuals following a 16-year career in the NBA, Barkley is also a vocal supporter of gay rights and marriage equality.

Speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday night, the Basketball Hall of Famer expressed support for Sam, a University of Missouri footballer, who is expected to become the first active openly-gay player in any of the USA’s four major team sports if he is selected in May’s NFL draft.

“I think it’s an insult to gay people to think that they are going to be looking at their teammates in a sexual way. That’s an insult to all gay men,” Barkley said.

“And we welcome them to the locker room, and I wish Mr. Sam the best.”

Barkley also commented that he believed the public was more homophobic when compared to professional sportspeople and that it was time for all gay people and couples to have equal rights.

“I think they’re going to be safe with their teammates,” the former Phoenix Suns star said.

“I think the public at large is more homophobic than guys in the locker room. I think we as players get a bad rap.”

Barkley’s comments came as ESPN published an anonymous poll of 51 NFL players on their reaction to Sam’s coming out earlier this month. 44 of the footballers said sexual orientation did not matter to them however 32 said they had a coach last season use homophobic slurs, while less than half were confident that an openly-gay player like Sam could be comfortable at any NFL team.

An unnamed NFL player who responded to the poll told ESPN that which ever club drafted Sam should be prepared to hold an extensive briefing session soon after.

“Whoever takes [Sam in the draft] should have an open talk at the beginning of camp, where everybody can ask what he’s comfortable with, what offends him, what boundaries there should be,” the unnamed footballer said.

“When it comes to race, people already know the boundaries, to a certain extent. But I don’t think football players are overly familiar with what can and can’t be said around a gay person.”

Last weekend, Sam’s fellow college students came together to form a human wall against members of the anti-gay Westboro Church who had come to Missouri to protest against Sam. Dozens of students linked hands, turned their backs and sang the college song until the group dispersed.




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