It was a surprise when one of the biggest stories of Super Bowl week was the issue of gay players in the NFL and although the season has ended, discussion of the topic has not. It apparently carried right over into the scouting combine that ended Tuesday.
Manti Te’o, whose fake dead girlfriend brought him ridicule and attention, may have denied to Katie Couric that he is gay (“Far from it. Faaar from it.”), but the question of his sexual orientation was, as Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio put it, “the elephant in the room” at the combine.
“I don’t think anyone knows how to solve this dilemma yet,” Florio said Monday on “The Dan Patrick Show.” “It’s just that they [NFL team officials] want to know what they’re getting. They want to know what issues they may be dealing with down the road. We just assumed that at some point there would be an openly gay player in an NFL locker room and the team would have to work with the realities and make sure that everything is fine.”
In an ESPN Denver radio interview, Colorado tight end Nick Kasa said he was asked jokingly, “Do you have a girlfriend? Are you married? Do you like girls?” by at least one team (via PFT). On Wednesday, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Florio that the league would look into whether prospective players had been asked about their sexual preference.
“Any team or employee that inquires about impermissible subjects or makes an employment decision based on such factors is subject to league discipline,” Aiello said. “Like all employers, our teams are expected to follow applicable federal, state and local employment laws. It is league policy to neither consider nor inquire about sexual orientation in the hiring process. In addition, there are specific protections in our collective bargaining agreement with the players that prohibit discrimination against any player, including on the basis of sexual orientation.”
On Wednesday, NFL Players Association Domonique Foxworth wrote in a Huffington Post essay that it’s time for players to encourage diversity. Foxworth admits that he “wasn’t always this enlightened.” His thinking crystallized, he writes, “was remembering how I felt when I heard classmates in my all-black high school say, ‘Domonique think he white,’ because I wanted to do well in school. We all belong to groups that carry stereotypes, and if we are being honest, maybe we can admit to perpetuating a few of them ourselves.”
I have been thinking a lot about being denied the path that best suits you because of the ignorance of others. There are so many great stories of pioneers in sports challenging convention and making the uncomfortable routine.
While we are still waiting for the gay pioneer in professional football, I can tell you that I already admire his bravery and selflessness — he will be trading peace and the ability to “fit in” for added pressure and intense scrutiny. All I can offer is my support, and hopefully he will feel emboldened knowing that he will have earned a permanent place in American sports and civil rights history.