The National Football League is made up of men (unless inspiring entrepreneur/kicking mockery Lauren Silberman has anything to say about it) and plenty of them. Nearly 1,700 actually, if you consider that each of the 32 teams have a 53-man roster.
But what does the NFL not have? Gay players. At least, that’s what the league wants you to think.
During the annual NFL Scouting Combine held from Feb. 20-26, teams watch players run sprints, bench press, glide through agility drills and show how well they can play their positions. All 32 teams sift through the college talent, trying to find the right player to pick at the upcoming draft in April.
The teams will interview a player as well. Ideally, this is to try to gauge the young man’s work ethic, leadership ability, intelligence and all the intangibles needed to succeed on the next level.
It is not a time to ask the player about his sexual orientation, as University of Colorado tight end Nick Kasa said they did.
Speaking to ESPN after the combine, Kasa said, “[Teams] ask you like, ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ ‘Are you married?’ ‘Do you like girls?’”
He has since downplayed the incident, saying that the teams were asking the questions jokingly and lightheartedly, but even if that is true, the incident still shines a poor light on the league.
Earlier this year, the NFL and the country as a whole was captivated by Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and the revelation that his deceased girlfriend, the same deceased girlfriend that sports networks latched on to as a storyline for Notre Dame’s improbable run into the BCS National Championship game, never actually existed.
Before it was proven that Te’o had simply been duped and had no knowledge that his fictitious girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, did not exist nor was killed in an automobile accident, everyone jumped to one conclusion: Te’o was gay.
Sports networks and forums blew up with rumors swirling over Te’o’s head over his contested sexuality after the sports website Deadspin.com first reported the story on Jan. 16. Had he been in cahoots with the man behind the scheme, creating a fake girlfriend to cover up his real sexuality? Was this Mormon student who was attending a prestigious Catholic university actually gay?
Leading into the scouting combine, there was one interview every team, every executive and every fan wanted to hear: Manti Te’o’s. In the six weeks since the story was released, were teams still fascinated about Te’o’s sexual identity? They sure were.
According to Mike Florio of NBC Sports and ProFootballTalk, teams were still very curious over whether or not Te’o is gay.
Will he ever shake the label? I doubt it. He could marry an international supermodel, à la Tom Brady, and people will still accuse him of being gay. (“Gisele who? Look, he’s wearing Uggs!”)
Currently there are no active players who are openly gay. This is not to say that there are no NFL players that are not gay. Wade Davis, a now-retired NFL player who came out last year, said he personally knows three players that are gay.
Would an openly gay player be accepted in the NFL, or for that matter, any professional sports league? During the media day at this year’s Super Bowl, San Francisco 49er cornerback Chris Culliver shot down the idea of having a gay teammate, saying, “No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do…. Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…Can’t be…In the locker room man. Nah.” He later went on to say that players should wait at least 10 years after retirement before coming out.
Is this the mindset of every player? Certainly not. Since then, Culliver has backed away from the comments and has since spent considerable time with and advocated for the LGBT community.
He was asked the question because the media was fascinated by the possibility and, seemingly, the sheer novelty of having a professional athlete playing one of the most physical sports also be gay. He may have had the most inflammatory remarks, but I am sure he was not the only person that was asked.
Kasa and Te’o certainly weren’t the only college players asked about it either.
In 2010, then Oklahoma State and current Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was asked by a league executive if his mother was, or was currently, a prostitute. The executive in this situation apologized after the incident, saying that he “used poor judgment.”
By delving deep into the personal lives of the players, the executives are all using poor judgment. By jumping on and spreading any shred of rumor about a player’s supposed sexuality, the media is using poor judgment. The fact that this is a concern, the fact that this has even become a big deal, the fact that every scout or wannabe scout judges a player based on his personal life rather than his athletic ability or off-the-field concerns, shows that everybody involved is using poor judgment.
The fact of the matter is, we don’t need to know whether a player is gay, straight or anything in-between. Prodding potential NFL players, spreading rumors about those already in the league and wondering if retired players will finally come out is not only horribly invasive and homophobic, but downright disrespectful.