Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

At combine, an air of anti-gay culture

Eli Apple was asked: “Do you like men?”

Getty Images

Eli Apple was asked: “Do you like men?”

When I first heard about Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple's experience at the NFL combine, I couldn't help but laugh.

Apple claimed that during an interview with the Atlanta Falcons, the first question that came from one of the team's assistant coaches was, "Do you like men?"

As a 29-year-old gay man, I spent the better part of two decades agonizing over that question and finally, when I was 20, came to accept that the answer was "Yes." It took another two years before I could tell my family, another year after that before I mustered up the courage to tell my closest friends and, well, six years after that to finally write about it in the Chicago Tribune.

I spent years and a lot of sleepless nights admitting to myself and others that I was gay. It was not an easy process.

For the record, Apple said he is not gay, but it never should have come to the point where he had to reveal anything about his sexuality. The NFL has taken some commendable action in working with organizations like the You Can Play Project, which provides resources to LGBTQ athletes and is working to change attitudes toward them in locker rooms across the country. But the episode at the combine during Apple's interview was disgraceful and illuminates just how far the NFL has to go before its culture embraces an openly gay player. It is still a league where being gay is seen as negative.

Apple said the assistant, Marquand Manuel, insinuated that in Atlanta, there are a lot of gay men and Apple has to be okay with that.

Apple said: "(He) was like, 'If you're going to come to Atlanta, sometimes that's how it is around here, you're going to have to get used to it.' "

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Apple may not have been the only one asked this question. If you read between the lines, the assistant is essentially saying, "Hey, if we pick you, you're going to live in Atlanta and you might be out somewhere and get hit on by a gay guy. You're okay with that, right? But you're also not going to go home with him, right?"

But whatever the assistant's intention, it's a remarkably awkward and obtuse way to begin a conversation.

It's also a dangerous line of thinking. It is clear that the assistant thinks being gay is a negative thing, something he must guard against, and that associating with gay men is a fact of life in Atlanta, but it is something the assistant is telling players they must deal with, like it's a burden.

LGBTQ rights in this country have come a long way, but one of the final frontiers in that fight is for inclusion in sports, especially in the major pro leagues where less than a handful of athletes — former NBA player Jason Collins and defensive lineman Michael Sam — have donned a jersey as openly gay men even though statistics suggest there are several gay, bisexual or questioning men playing professional sports. Gay-rights activists have fought to dismiss the stereotype that gay men are not considered masculine enough to play sports on a pro level. So when the issue of whether or not a player is gay is treated with such nonchalance and insensitivity as the Falcons did with Apple, it illustrates just how far the NFL still has to go before diminishing this stereotype and making a gay athlete comfortable enough to come out.

It's already hard enough for a gay athlete to accept himself, and I had hope that after Sam came out such a sea change would come over the NFL and it would gradually open its arms to having gay players on the field.

But that day is still off in the distance.

— Chicago Tribune (TNS)

At combine, an air of anti-gay culture 03/09/16 [Last modified: Thursday, March 10, 2016 7:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Five reasons why Kentucky can beat Florida for the first time since 1986

    College

    By Matt Baker

    GAINESVILLE — Florida's 30-game winning streak over Kentucky is one of the most impressive feats in the country.

    Florida Gators offensive lineman Martez Ivey (73) celebrates Florida Gators running back Mark Thompson's  (24) touch down in the first quarter, putting Florida on the board 6-0 during the game between the University of Florida and the University of Kentucky in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. Florida defeated Kentucky 45-7. ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times

  2. Once targeted by the Bucs, Dalvin Cook thrills for the Vikings

    Bucs

    How good would the Bucs be with running back Dalvin Cook?

    Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) slips a tackle by Steelers strong safety Sean Davis (28) to score a touchdown Sunday in Pittsburgh. [AP photo]
  3. Boxer LaMotta, immortalized in 'Raging Bull,' dies at 95

    Obituaries

    MIAMI — Jake LaMotta, the former middleweight champion whose life in and out of the ring was depicted in the film Raging Bull, for which Robert DeNiro won an Academy Award, has died, his fiancee said Wednesday. He was 95.

    Jake LaMotta, retired professional boxer, shakes hands with Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) on the field before the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on Sept. 15, 2015. LaMotta was on hand to sign autographs in the Ted Williams Museum.
  4. J.R. Sweezy shows what Bucs were missing

    Bucs

    By Greg Auman

    TAMPA —- Sunday's season-opening win against the Bears saw the debut of 13 Bucs, a mix of rookies and free-agent veterans.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive guard J.R. Sweezy (73), seen at center, runs through drills during training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, July 31, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times 

  5. Cannon Fodder podcast: Bucs-Vikings features a battle of top rookies

    Bucs

    Greg Auman looks at how much the Bucs have changed since the last time they played the Minnesota Vikings in 2014 in our latest Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Bucs tight end O.J. Howard (80) makes a reception as Chicago Bears free safety Eddie Jackson (39) tackles him Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]