First Coast Connect
1:07 pm
Mon February 10, 2014

Cole Pepper: The NFL's First Openly Gay Player, Olympic Update, And Athletes Vs. Fans In The Stands

The NFL could be about to draft it's first openly gay player and the Olympics are in full swing. Karen Feagins spoke with Cole Pepper about these and other sports stories in our weekly sports wrap.

First Coast Connect: First Coast Sports Wrap with Cole Pepper - Feb. 10, 2014

Mizzou's Michael Sam comes out

University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, who will be entering the NFL Draft this May, could become the league's first openly gay player.
Credit The University of Missouri

Missouri DE Michael Sam, who led the SEC in sacks last season, announced that he is gay.

He figures to be drafted somewhere in rounds 3-5 in the NFL draft in May. He will be the first openly gay active NFL player.

There have been former players who have come out, and an MLS soccer player came out while he was playing, but Sam will be the first openly gay athlete in one of the “big 3” team sports.

Sochi 2014

The Winter Olympic Games are underway in Sochi, Russia. So far, the biggest story has been the state of preparations in Sochi.

Some remarkable pictures from the Athlete’s village have been rather shocking, including some rooms with a row of chairs in front of the toilets, some with side by side stools, and other with the toilet seat on upside down.

Bode Miller failed to medal in the downhill. After posting the fastest time in the practice runs, Miller finished a disappointing 8th in what was likely his last Olympic Games. At 36 years of age, Miller would be hard pressed to compete at a high level four years from now.

To give you an idea of the kind of difference winning Olympic gold can make, take Jamie Anderson, who won gold in the slopestyle snowboarding competition. She had about 2,000 twitter followers before the Olympics. Now, she’s over 25,000. What that shows is that there are suddenly about ten-times as many people who are aware of and interested in her.

As for the medal count, which I’m not sure is really a fair gauge of Olympic success, Norway leads with 7; the U.S. and the Netherlands have 4 thus far.

College Basketball

Marcus Smart, the All America candidate from Oklahoma State, during a game at Texas Tech on Saturday, shoved an opposing fan.

Here’s what happened: Late in the game, Texas Tech was leading, en route to an upset of Oklahoma State. Smart tried to block a breakaway dunk attempt in the closing seconds. He tumbled into the area just behind the basket in front of the fans in that end zone area. Smart then bounced up went face to face with a Texas Tech fan, since identified as Jeff Orr, known as a big Tech fan and a bit of a heckler in Lubbock.

Smart got in Orr’s face, then shoved him hard with both hands. Orr, who is a pretty big guy, stumbled back, but didn’t go down. Initially, there was word that there was a racial slur involved, but a Go-Pro video from the area (posted below) seems to reveal that Orr called Smart a “piece of crap.”

Smart has been suspended for three games by the Big 12 Conference and the school. He’ll return just in time for Oklahoma State’s game against, you guessed it, Texas Tech.

This brings up the topic of behavior at sporting events, which, by in large, have been deteriorating over time.

Fans are increasingly making themselves a part of the game and as long as they are not in physical danger, players, coaches and officials need to control themselves.

I would also say that fans need to consider a move toward greater civility. I don’t want to take the emotion out of a live sporting event, in fact, that’s one of the most compelling part of attending a sporting event.

But I can tell you that one of the most memorable events I’ve ever attended is the College World Series in Omaha. I recall on one occasion, I sat in the left field stands with some friends. We didn’t have a team to root for, we just wanted to go and enjoy the event. What was great about that event was that everybody was rooting FOR their team, not against the other guy. I would like to make that challenge to anyone who goes to a sporting event. At the next game, just root for your team and see if the experience is any less enjoyable.

Jacksonville University at the University of North Florida

If you want to celebrate Valentine’s Day on the hardwood, you can share the love with the River City Rumble — JU vs. UNF on the basketball court.

UNF won the first meeting of the year 86-82 in front of a UNFL record crowd of over 5,000 last month.

It was just the 5th time in 20 games that UNF has beaten JU. JU needs the win in a big way while UNF is fighting for 3rd place in the conference. Tip-off is Friday at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena at 7 p.m.

You can follow Melissa Ross at @MelissainJax and Cole Pepper @ColePepper

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