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Tommy Wingels of San Jose Sharks on NFL prospect Michael Sam

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The NFL scouting combine is ongoing from Saturday, Feb. 22 through Tuesday, Feb. 25. It is second only to that league's draft day for off-season event significance. This year's was made all the more noteworthy is being the first with an openly-gay player, Michael Sam.

Tommy Wingels of the San Jose Sharks knows a thing or two about gay prospects breaking ground. His University of Miami teammate Brendan Burke—son of former NHL general manager Brian Burke—came out in 2009.

Examiner caught up with Wingels after a recent practice and asked a few questions. The answers pictured here are relevant to Sam being likely the first NFL player to be out while active in the league and those in the companion article to his role with the Sharks.

Burke coming out began the fight to give lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGBT) athletes a safe environment. He died in a car crash the next year, and in March of 2012 his brother helped launch the You Can Play Project Wingels now works with.

Examining Christianity in San Francisco and the Bay Area that it sets the tone for without addressing the elephant in the room would be irresponsible. At the same time, Wingels would not talk about whether the religious movement to define marriage more narrowly has been an obstacle in his efforts, saying their focus remained on sports only.

The reality is that Christians are being challenged not from without but from within. This is not about a "gay agenda" from people just asking for equal rights.

This is about showing the love of God to everyone. It is about challenging ourselves to represent Christ and remember that Jesus challenged the religious leaders of his day for using scripture as a burden for the 39 verses that make up Matthew 23.

Christians must remember that certain scriptures were misinterpreted in the past to support slavery, banning interracial marriage and more. The important thing is not whether or not scriptures support a view as an action. Even if one believes someone's actions bring condemnation upon them, we must treat them with God's love in hopes they will be saved because He forgives all of us.

Living in the new covenant means no more Leviticus-style stoning attitudes of condemnation. Remember strict reading of scripture would mean it is sinful for women to have their heads uncovered in church (I Corinthians 11:2-16). We cannot pick and choose—no gay marriages but pagan ones or godless ones in our city halls are okay.

Moreover, legislating by faith is not the way to govern in a democracy. So many citing faith for these bans decry so much other "government interference." Whatever one believes, equal rights are a duty and condemnation is not the love of God or a way to serve His kingdom.

Whether a person can or cannot be converted, s/he should have basic protection and a safe environment. When Sam courageously came out to his teammates at the University of Missouri, they made him captain and he led them to a fifth-ranked finish that was better than expected.

Intolerance does not get those kinds of rewards, nor should it. If Wingels and Sam have their way, players will be accepted for what they do when they are with the team, not away from it. The only way this issue goes away is to accept that we cannot dictate everyone's interpretations of scripture, remember our own understanding is fallible and acknowledge that forcing our beliefs on the world does not equate to heart-felt evangelism.

Michael Sam comes out
Michael Sam comes out Joe Robbins, Getty Images

Michael Sam comes out

In the wake of Michael Sam coming out as gay, Tommy Wingels of the San Jose Sharks discussed his role with the You Can Play Project that fights for a safe environment for LGBT athletes:

Patrick Burke thought this was something that needed to be addressed in the hockey world. ...Guys who are in the locker room and are part of the game obviously bring a different thought process and mentality than some guys on the outside.

I try to do whatever they ask me to and try to speak up when the opportunity is there. The success and change we've scene in a couple years this project has been out there is something.

Brendan Burke's teammate
Brendan Burke's teammate Thearon W Henderson, Getty Images

Brendan Burke's teammate

To Tommy Wingels, Brendan Burke was another teammate to stand up for even after the two left University of Miami (Ohio):

When he came out, he was Brendan to us and nothing else mattered. His sexual orientation didn't change our friendship with him, how we viewed him. It gave us a better understanding of who he was—when you know something like that about a person you feel like you know him better.

It was very unfortunate what happened to him and if we can carry on this legacy of his, we'll get it done any way we can.

Safe team environmnet
Safe team environmnet Christian Petersen, Getty Images

Safe team environmnet

Asked whether he and the You Can Play Project are expecting more athletes to come out, Tommy Wingels initially said he had no idea. Given a couple seconds, he sounded like a man with a pretty good understanding of the landscape:

I think there's a reason why there's been just one this far and maybe two in professional sports (Jason Collins was just signed by the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA). I don't think it will just be that everyone comes out all of a sudden now that one or two have but if (I) can help create a safer environment to make that possible, then we're doing our part.

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