CLEVELAND -- Once Michael Sam is drafted in the NFL, the Missouri defensive end will be judged strictly on whether he can play and whether he can help his team win. Everything else -- even that hes gay -- will be trivial. As the first openly homosexual player to enter the draft, Sam could face scrutiny unlike any player before him. But many of the greatest players and coaches in football history dont believe hell be subjected to any hatred, harassment, discrimination or bullying by teammates. "I dont think hell have any problem in the locker room. I dont think hell have any problems on the field," said Hall of Fame offensive tackle Art Shell. "The one thing about football players, theyre inclusive. They will take you for who you are, not what people try to portray you as. "Its who you are: Youre a football player, then you can play with us. I dont see that as being a problem in the National Football League." Shells stance was shared by several other Hall of Famers, including Lions running back Barry Sanders, Buffalo coach Marv Levy, and Giants linebacker Harry Carson, who appeared along with nearly 100 other inductees at a two-day "Fan Fest," the largest gathering ever of football legends outside Canton, Ohio. Sanders, who retired at the peak of his career following the 1998 season with 15,269 career yards rushing, believes theres an unwritten code among football players to ignore anything other than a persons skills and talents. "From the time youre a kid and you start playing, youre almost programmed for Can a guy play or not?" he said. "By the time you get to the NFL, thats well ingrained. Im pretty sure every guy in this league has been around gay individuals before, and so I dont think it will be much different." Sams courageous decision to reveal his sexual orientation was an important personal milestone. It was also an historic moment for the NFL and all major sports as it provides a deeper reflection of societys openness and willingness to accept his individuality. Sams revelation may not have been met with such overwhelming approval just a few years ago. In the macho arena that is pro football, Sam may have been an outcast in previous generations. "Hes a very bold guy to come out," said cornerback Michael Haynes, a nine-time Pro Bowler elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997. "The timing is good. If hed done that in the 60s or 70s, maybe not so good because everybody was really struggling with how to understand differences like that in people. "Diversity has become a critical topic, people are talking about it all the time and I think the world is different. Remember Magic Johnson with AIDS? It starts with education. Hell be judged on football." Carson, who retired in 1988 after 13 seasons in New York, said he was "proud" of Sam for choosing to be open about his sexuality. Carson recalled that one of his Giants teammates, offensive lineman Roy Simmons, was suspected as being gay and was never ostracized. "It never really swayed anyones opinion of him," Carson said. "But its something he lived with and he didnt have to by himself because he had teammates, and the teammates he had were guys who supported him. Even though he never said anything, were 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." Simmons, the first player to acknowledge he was HIV positive, died early this year. He was 57. Its possible there will be some awkwardness for Sam in the locker room, where he could be subjected to jokes and playful ribbing. Sanders believes those days are long gone. "Guys are more forward thinking than you think," he said. "It helps that hes a big guy. No one will mess with him." The 6-foot-2, 261-pound Sam has been projected to be drafted from the third round on. Sam didnt perform well on the field at the scouting combine, where he calmly handled tough questions about his decision to "come out." Levy, who led the Bills to four straight Super Bowls, said his criteria before deciding to draft Sam would be pretty simple. "Is he the best guy at his position when were on the board, and do we need a guy at that position?" the 89-year-old Levy said. "If so, Ill take him. Id like to know his character qualities and other things, but that would not factor into my decision." If he were coaching a team that selected Sam, Levy said he would not feel any need to address his players. That may not have been the case 10 or 20 years ago. "I wouldnt make an issue of it," Levy said. "I think society has adjusted to the point where its an acceptable thing and why make an issue of it? That would be my approach. Things change, plus Ive got to worry about how to pick up the blitz." 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In mens doubles, Vancouvers Vasek Pospisil and American Jack Sock reached the quarter-finals with a 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3), 6-4 win over Croatian Mate Pavic and Andre Sa of Brazil.PITTSBURGH, Pa. - It might be way too early to call the Pittsburgh Pirates a team of destiny. But after what manager Clint Hurdle witnessed Thursday night, he had to stop and wonder. "Sometimes, youre just meant to win," he said. The Pirates got a lucky break when Boston pinch-runner Jemile Weeks was hit by a batted ball in the ninth inning, beating the Red Sox 3-2 to increase their lead in the NL playoff race. The Pirates won their fourth in a row. They now lead Milwaukee by 3 1/2 games for the second wild-card spot, and host the Brewers in a three-game series beginning Friday night. Down 3-2, the Red Sox put runners at the corners with no outs in the ninth against Mark Melancon. Will Middlebrooks then hit a chopper down the line and ball struck the back of Weeks left leg as he made a dive back to third. Weeks was called out, and Melancon retired the last two batters for his 30th save in 34 opportunities. "Ive never seen that one before," Hurdle said. Weeks said there was nothing he could have done to avoid being hit by the ball. "There was a lot involved," he said. "The play was, if its not a double-play ball, make sure you get back. It wasnt a double-play ball, got back, had to avoid getting tagged or creating a double-play situation. Thats what I did and the ball hit me on the way back." Gerrit Cole (10-5) allowed two runs in seven-plus innings, striking out seven and walking none. He won his season-best third straight start. The second-year righty improved 7-1 in nine career September starts. "Pitching like games like this is fun," Cole said. "Every game Ive pitched (in Septembeer) has been do-or-die.ddddddddddddYou want the ball in that situation. You want to do well." Starling Marte hit his 13th homer, connecting off Brandon Workman (1-10) in the fifth for a 3-1 lead. Workman lost his 10th straight decision. Boston had closed to 3-2 in the eighth on Xander Bogaerts sacrifice fly, but lost for the eighth time in its last 11 games. Cole was lifted after giving up back-to-back singles to Christian Vazquez and Garin Cecchini to start the inning. TRAINERS ROOM Red Sox: INF-OF Brock Holt, who has not played since Sept. 5 because of a concussion, was cleared to resume baseball activities Thursday after being examined by Pittsburgh-based head trauma specialist Micky Collins. Boston is hopeful Holt can play in a few games before the season ends Sept. 28. If not, he will go for the Florida Instructional League camp in Fort Myers to get some game action. Pirates: SS Jordy Mercer was back in the lineup after missing two games with a lower back strain and went 1 for 3 with a double. UP NEXT Red Sox: RHP Allen Webster (4-3, 6.02) will start Friday night in the opener of a three-game series at Baltimore, facing RHP Kevin Gausman (7-7, 3.57). Pirates: LHP Jeff Locke (7-5, 3.66) will face the Brewers Yovani Gallardo (8-10, 3.59) in the series opener. BIG PAPI RETURNS Boston designated hitter David Ortiz returned to the team and started at first base after missing the first two games of the series because of a family emergency. Ortiz was forced to play in the field because the DH rule is not in effect in interleague games at NL parks. He went 0 for 4 and struck out twice. ' ' '