When NFL prospects speak with team officials at the league’s draft combine in Indianapolis, they expect some unusual, and possibly even upsetting, questions — but they are not supposed to be asked about their sexuality. Yet one highly regarded running back said that was exactly what happened to him.
LSU’s Derrius Guice said in a radio appearance this week that his team interviews at the recently concluded combine were “pretty crazy,” and that “some people are really trying to get in your head and test your reaction.”
“I go in one room, and a team will ask me do I like men, just to see my reaction,” Guice said Wednesday on SiriusXM Radio (via USA Today). “I go in another room, they’ll try to bring up one of my family members or something and tell me, ‘Hey, I heard your mom sells herself. How do you feel about that?’ ”
Pro Football Talk cited “a source with knowledge of the situation” who confirmed that “the question was asked” about Guice’s sexuality.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said Thursday the as-yet unidentified team should be prohibited from attending the combine.
“Find out what team did it and ban them from the combine,” Smith told “PFT Live.” “The question is inappropriate. Questions along these lines are always inappropriate.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league was “looking into the matter.” In a statement provided to The Washington Post, he added, “A question such as that is completely inappropriate and wholly contrary to league workplace policies. The NFL and its clubs are committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all employees in a manner that is consistent with our commitment to diversity and inclusion, state and federal laws and the [collective bargaining agreement]. …
“The league annually reminds clubs of these workplace policies that prohibit personnel from seeking information concerning a player’s sexual orientation.”
The NFL seems likely to investigate the matter, as it did in 2016, when Ohio State’s Eli Apple, who went on to become a first-round pick by the Giants, said he was asked the same question by a Falcons staffer. Falcons Coach Dan Quinn later said he was “disappointed in the question” and added, “I have spoken to the coach that interviewed Eli Apple and explained to him how inappropriate and unprofessional this was. I have reiterated this to the entire coaching staff and I want to apologize to Eli for this even coming up. This is not what the Atlanta Falcons are about and it is not how we are going to conduct ourselves.”
To Jim Buzinski, a co-founder of Outsports, a website that examines the intersection of sports and LGBT issues, the question about Guice’s sexuality “is, at its root, homophobic.” In a phone interview with The Post, he said that such questions, and the one about Guice’s mother being a prostitute, are “designed to test how this player will react to what might be considered an adverse question.”
“What is it saying?” Buzinski asked. “Is it saying if he liked men, that would somehow be a bad thing? Is he expecting the guy to get out of his chair and start screaming, ‘No, I’m a heterosexual!’?”
Human Rights Campaign’s director of public education and research, Ashland Johnson, called the question to Guice “absurd and inappropriate” in a statement, adding that in light of similar incidents, “it’s clear that the NFL did not do enough to prevent it from happening again.”
In 2013, after Colorado tight end Nick Kasa claimed that he was asked at the combine, “Do you like girls?” Smith said, “I know that the NFL agrees that these types of questions violate the law, our CBA and player rights.”
NFL teams have been known to use their interviews with prospects as ad hoc psychological exams as much as anything else, and they have asked questions meant to be deliberately provocative. Guice’s mention of the question about whether his “mom sells herself” recalled a similar episode with Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant, who would go on to become a first-round pick by the Cowboys, in 2010.
In that instance, the executive who asked the question, then-Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland, quickly apologized. “My job is to find out as much information as possible about a player that I’m considering drafting. Sometimes that leads to asking in-depth questions,” Ireland said (via ESPN). “Having said that, I talked to Dez Bryant and told him I used poor judgment in one of the questions I asked him. I certainly meant no disrespect and apologized to him.”
The NFL has never had an openly gay player appear in a regular season game, with the nearest example being Missouri’s Michael Sam, who came out before the 2014 draft and was selected in the seventh round by the Rams, but who was released before the season began and later spent some time on the Cowboys’ practice squad.
Last year, former Patriots and Chiefs offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan became the latest of just a handful of players to have come out after leaving the NFL. During Super Bowl Week in Minneapolis this year, Esera Tuaolo, a former NFL player who came out in 2002, partnered with the league to hold an Inclusion Party intended to further LGBT acceptance in football.
Jason Collins, a former NBA player who in 2014 became the first openly gay male athlete to participate in one of the four major U.S. pro sports leagues, said on Twitter Wednesday that the question about Guice’s sexuality was “unacceptable.” He urged the NFL to “start with huge fines and go from there.”
It remains to be seen what comes of Guice’s question, but Buzinski said that NFL officials “definitely have to identify the team and the coach … and they need some sort of punishment, at least a strong fine.” Noting that “this happened just two years ago, and at the time the league took no action,” another co-founder of Outsports, Cyd Zeigler, told The Post that he had stronger penalties in mind.
“If the league wants to eradicate this question, they need to do two things: They need to suspend the offending coach for Week 1, and they need to remove a draft pick from the team that did this,” Zeigler said. “The offense has to do with the draft, [so] if you want to make sure that this never, ever happens again, you take a fifth-round draft pick away. … That question will never be asked again.”
“I think the fact that we do not have an openly gay player is reflective of the fact that it is still considered an issue in male pro sports in general,” Buzinski said. “These types of questions don’t help, because they insinuate that there would be something wrong with an affirmative answer.”
Guice, who rushed for 1,251 yards, 11 touchdowns and 5.3 yards per carry last year for the Tigers, was measured at the combine at 5-foot-11 and 212 pounds, and he posted a time of 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He is considered to be among the top candidates to become the second running back drafted next month, with Penn State’s Saquon Barkley the consensus top prospect at his position and a candidate to go first overall.
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