Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL team's sexuality question out of bounds

Sometimes the questions are benign: Do you prefer Big Macs or Whoppers?

Sometimes they are a little kinky, such as when one NFL team asked Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy if he wore a jock strap or a G-string when he played.

Former Bucs coach Jon Gruden once told a quarterback to get under a chair and read off a play-call. Former Largo High star and Chiefs receiver Dexter McCluster was asked to sing.

The questions that come up during the interview process at the NFL scouting combine range from goofy to provocative, but now we have a few more words to describe one question at this year's combine:

Inappropriate. Improper. Rude.

And most of all: wrong.

University of Colorado tight end Nick Kasa said in a radio interview that one team (he wouldn't reveal which one) asked him if he was married or had a girlfriend. Then this team crossed the line. Kasa said he was asked if he likes girls, which seems like a not-so-subtle way of asking what the team really wanted to know:

Are you gay?

The Kasa story follows weeks of speculation about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, whose sexual orientation has been questioned since the bizarre story surfaced that he had a girlfriend who did not exist. Katie Couric even asked Te'o if he was gay in their interview on her talk show.

It's okay for her to ask. It's not okay for a potential employer to ask.

Other players at this year's combine are saying they were asked the same question, leaving me with these three things that popped into my head:

The NFL remains homophobic

Merely asking someone if he "likes girls" suggests that though the NFL as an entity would love to welcome gay players, individual teams are not ready.

There's a reason no active NFL player has ever announced he is gay. And it has nothing to do with the reaction he might get from fans.

The general public has shown not only acceptance but support of openly gay people in the public arena. We've seen actors, singers, talk-show hosts and even athletes in other sports who not only are liked but popular enough to have endorsement deals. It's not the fans who would have a problem with a gay player. It's other players.

Would there be media scrutiny of a gay player? Absolutely. Would some fans heckle that player? There are always a few knuckleheads. Would that player be a distraction for his team? Maybe for a while.

Eventually the story would die down, just like every big story does. Then all that would be left is a homosexual player and his heterosexual teammates. Though most players likely would accept a gay teammate, is there any doubt a few would have an issue playing alongside and showering and dressing next to someone who is gay?

That's what it comes down to: a handful of homophobic players on each team that scares clubs away from employing someone they know is gay.

(By the way, I can't imagine anything more insulting to a gay athlete than suggesting he would not be able to control himself in the workplace and would be helpless to keep from making advances on a teammate. For crying out loud, give people more credit than that.)

It might be legal to ask, but it's wrong

Here's something you might not know: It is not illegal in Florida for a potential employer to ask a job candidate about his or her sexual orientation. In many states a potential employer can't ask a woman if she is pregnant or if someone goes to church, but it is allowed to ask an applicant if he or she is gay.

Federal law leaves the matter up to individual states, and only 13 of the 32 NFL franchises are prohibited by their state's laws from asking about sexual orientation. (To note, someone in any state can file a discrimination suit if they believe they were denied a job because of their sexual orientation.)

Though it is not illegal in some states to ask if someone is gay, it certainly is wrong, even if the question is just to gauge that person's reaction.

Teams might argue they are investing millions in players and need to know everything they can about them. But having a relationship with a man does not affect a player's football abilities any more or less than having a relationship with a woman would. You can see why a team might question a player with a history of legal troubles about them because that player's inability to stay out of trouble could affect his availability. But how does being gay affect one's ability to throw, run, jump, tackle, block or simply show up on Sunday?

The league must take a stronger stance

The NFL has no policy on what teams can ask in combine interviews, though it did release a statement this year saying, "Any team or employee that inquires about impermissible subjects or makes an employment decision based on such factors is subject to league discipline."

But this shouldn't be just about punishment. It needs to be about understanding.

The league needs to be more proactive. It needs to meet with players, it needs to meet with teams, it needs to meet with rookies. It needs to teach tolerance and respect. Most of all, it needs to find out which teams ask if players are gay and then learn specifically why those teams felt the need to ask such a question.

Then, perhaps someday, no one will ask a young man if he likes girls because no one will care.

 
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