Hall of Fame Fan Fest collects NFL greats, opinions on hot topics

Click on the photo below to view a photo gallery of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest.

Cleveland hosted a new event during the weekend, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest. Billed the "ComicCon" for football fans, it brought together NFL Hall of Famers and football-related events for all ages. The media covered the event, talking to many of the pro football greats who were in attendance.

* The Associated Press talked to former greats who said that Michael Sam, who came out as gay in January, will be accepted in NFL locker rooms.

"I don't think he'll have any problem in the locker room. I don't think he'll have any problems on the field," former Raiders offensive tackle Art Shell told the Associated Press this weekend, when he appeared with about 100 other Hall of Famers at a Fan Fest in Cleveland. "The one thing about football players, they're inclusive. They will take you for who you are, not what people try to portray you as."

"Shell's stance was shared by several other Hall of Famers, including Lions running back Barry Sanders, Buffalo coach Marv Levy, and Giants linebacker Harry Carson," the AP reports.

"From the time you're a kid and you start playing, you're almost programmed for ‘Can a guy play or not?'" Sanders said. "By the time you get to the NFL, that's well ingrained. I'm pretty sure every guy in this league has been around gay individuals before, and so I don't think it will be much different."

Carson, who said he's proud of Sam for coming out, noted that his Giants teammate Roy Simmons was thought to be gay (Simmons, who died in February, came out after retiring), but it made no difference to the other players. "It never really swayed anyone's opinion of him," Carson said. "But it's something he lived with and he didn't have to by himself because he had teammates, and the teammates he had were guys who supported him. Even though he never said anything, we're a team and guys on the team who are unselfish are going to support their teammates regardless of how they choose to live their lives."

* Michael Haynes told the Chronicle-Telegram during the Fan Fest that young players need to look out for concussions.

"That's why it's important, most of all for kids, to know when they have a concussion so they can get off the field," Haynes said. "Anybody that thinks they can play through a concussion is fooling themselves."

Haynes didn't go as far as laying all the blame at the NFL's feet, saying players and The Players Association should have been more responsible, too.

"I can't 100 percent say it's all (the NFL's) fault, but someone should've been watching over our backs because a lot of times guys are just kids — 22, 23 years old," Haynes said.

"Then because there's so little knowledge about it, parents are wondering if their kids should play football. I want my kids to play, but I also want them to be safe."

A lot of the same concussion rules and protocols have been adopted by the NCAA, which is also facing an outcry from its players over healthcare benefits and fair treatment given the amount of money the organization makes under its various television contracts.

* The former Hall of Famers also said they applauded the NBA's reaction to Donald Sterling's racist comments, ESPN's NFLNation reported, led by Harry Carson, the executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance.

"It doesn't really surprise me," said Carson, who has urged the NFL to penalize players for using the N-word. "People have very deep-seeded thoughts of other people. When a person is older, the way that they feel has been in their system forever."

Former Patriots offensive guard John Hannah had an interesting suggestion for dealing with people who make the types of racist assertions that Sterling did on a tape that was made public nine days ago.

"There's always jackasses in the world, you know?" Hannah said. "You just kind of giggle at them, laugh at them and know that they're idiots. Let it go."

Barry Sanders, the Hall of Fame Detroit Lions running back, was "shocked and amazed" when he first learned of Sterling's audio comments. Floyd Little, another Hall of Fame back who played for the Broncos, applauded Silver's swift and firm punishment.

"Got what he deserved," Little said. "I'm not pulling any punches, but it's a history. It's not like it's just one shot. If it's one shot? Then no. But his history tells what he's done over the years. It finally caught up with him. So when you get caught, you get caught."

* And The Plain Dealer featured Don Shula, who used the opportunity to reconnect with Cleveland.

Though handlers tried to expedite his trips to different locations in the convention hall, the always accommodating Shula was glad to stop and pose with a small girl in a Dolphins cheerleading uniform, as well as Mary Powers Miller, an 87-year-old football fan from Amherst who said she watched Shula play for the Browns in 1951 and '52.

"I remember I was so impressed by him as a player," she said. "He was very special."

Shula even posed with Pittsburgh fans dressed in black and yellow.

"Steelers fans? Steelers?" he teased.

"I've always been a big Browns fan," Shula said. "Paul Brown meant an awful lot to me and my career."

-- Bill Bradley, contributing editor