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NBC's Lauer: NFL Won't Be on 'Right Side of History' Until More Gay Players Come Out

Talking to NBC sportscaster Bob Costas on Monday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer reacted to openly gay football player Michael Sam being drafted by the St. Louis Rams on Saturday: "The big picture here in terms of the NFL, is this a sea change or is this a one-off? Is this the league moving to the right side of history? Which by the way, they really can't do unless more players come forward." [Listen to the audio]

Costas responded: "Oh, I think more players will come forward. And in that respect, Michael Sam, no matter what kind of NFL career he has, is a significant figure....And this stuff is moving at warp speed. This kind of acceptance is happening quicker than any of us might have thought. And so I think the NFL is just getting in line with what's happening in society overall."

Prior to Sam and NBA player Jason Collins coming out, Lauer was already urging gay athletes to come out. In April of 2013, he scolded society for making players "still feel as if they'll be ostracized if they come out" and days later demanded: "What is it going to take to change that and have someone come out and say it?"

At the top of Monday's exchange, Lauer observed: "Back in February, Michael Sam said, 'I wish people could see me as Michael Sam the football player, not Michael Sam the gay football player.' Based on the attention and coverage we've seen since the third day of the draft, we're a ways away from that.'

Costas blamed the media hype and even entertained the possibility of Sam not succeeding: "Well, yeah. It's the media culture that we're all a part of and there's going to be overreactions to it. But I think eventually he'll be judged on his play and it's entirely possible that he won't make it in the NFL. There are a lot of first-round draft choices, highly touted guys, that didn't make it despite all the kind of over-analysis that defies parity that surrounds the NFL Draft."

Here is a full transcript of the May 12 segment:

7:11 AM ET

MATT LAUER: Bob Costas is the host of Football Night in America here on NBC. Hi, Bob, good to see you.

BOB COSTAS: Hey, Matt.

LAUER: Back in February, Michael Sam said, "I wish people could see me as Michael Sam the football player, not Michael Sam the gay football player." Based on the attention and coverage we've seen since the third day of the draft, we're a ways away from that.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: A First for Football; What Does Openly Gay Player Mean for the NFL?]

COSTAS: Well, yeah. It's the media culture that we're all a part of and there's going to be overreactions to it. But I think eventually he'll be judged on his play and it's entirely possible that he won't make it in the NFL. There are a lot of first-round draft choices, highly touted guys, that didn't make it despite all the kind of over-analysis that defies parity that surrounds the NFL Draft. Think about this, Tom Brady was like the 200th player selected. Peyton Manning was selected right at the top of the draft. They're the two best quarterbacks of the generation. It's at best, educated guess work.

LAUER: In your opinion, the reception from most of the players will be favorable, from the coaches as well, from the press that covers the game as well. You think Michael Sam's biggest problem is going to be social media.

COSTAS: Yeah, he should stay away from it because 1% of the people can make a whole lot of noise on social media. I guess we should stipulate a lot of good things can happen on social media, you can aggregate people for good causes and for awareness. But at the same time, every creep and cretin on the planet can weigh in on every subject and every person, so he ought to stay away from that because it will not reflect how most people feel.

LAUER: The big picture here in terms of the NFL, is this a sea change or is this a one-off? Is this the league moving to the right side of history? Which by the way, they really can't do unless more players come forward.

COSTAS: Oh, I think more players will come forward. And in that respect, Michael Sam, no matter what kind of NFL career he has, is a significant figure. Just like Jason Collins, who hasn't played a minute in the playoffs for the Nets, but nonetheless he's a significant figure in the NBA. And this stuff is moving at warp speed. This kind of acceptance is happening quicker than any of us might have thought. And so I think the NFL is just getting in line with what's happening in society overall.

LAUER: I got you in the chair, so let me ask you about Donald Sterling, now speaking out, his wife speaking out as well. Mr. Sterling says this in an interview, "When I listen to that tape, I don't even know how I can say things like that. I don't know why the girl had me say those things." And he goes on to say, "Am I entitled to one mistake? Am I after 35 years?"

COSTAS: Yeah, everybody-

LAUER: Did he help or hurt himself?

COSTAS: Pretty hard to hurt himself at this point.

LAUER: The league going to change its mind in any way about Donald Sterling?

COSTAS: No, the league's not going to change its mind about Donald Sterling. You and I probably aren't qualified to get into all the possible things that could happen with Shelly Sterling in litigation, that could get difficult, but Donald Sterling is out.

LAUER: Yeah, I'm still trying to find out how "the girl had me say those things."

COSTAS: And if it was only his only mistake, egregious as it is, that would be a different thing. But Donald Sterling has a bit of a track record.

Very quickly, Michael Sam is in a good spot in St. Louis because he played at Missouri. There were never any problems there with college kids, college coaches. And the head coach of the Rams is very, very enlightened on this whole thing, Jeff Fisher, and he's one of the most respected figures in the league. He'll set a tone. I don't think he'll have much of a problem beyond whether or not he can play well in the league.

LAUER: Good point. Bob, nice to see you.

COSTAS: Thank you, Matt.

LAUER: Thanks very much.

— Kyle Drennen is News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.