An NFL trailer at the New Meadowlands Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Reuters/Mike Segar)
If you harbor the quaint notion that whom you sleep with is your own business, you might want to forgo dreams of playing in the National Football League.
According to NBC’s Mike Florio, NFL teams are asking in interviews with prospect Manti Te’o whether the Notre Dame All-American is gay. They think, in Florio’s words, that they are a “unique business” and if they are going to invest money in the scandal-plagued star, they have the right to know where he goes and whom he knows in the privacy of his home. As one former NFL executive said to me in a statement that speaks volumes, “We feel like we have the right to look under the hood.”
This line of questioning also reaches far beyond Manti Te’o and his unique story of fake girlfriends and real hoaxes. Prospect Nick Kasa, speaking at the NFL’s combine this week, broke the seal of silence on the interview process for prospective rookies. He said to ESPN Radio in Denver, “They ask you like, ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ ‘Are you married?’ ‘Do you like girls?’ Those kinds of things, and you know it was just kind of weird. But they would ask you with a straight face, and it’s a pretty weird experience altogether.”
In some respect this is no more “weird” that the entire combine process where players stand on cement blocks while they are poked, measured and squeezed like GMs are looking for fresh cassavas. But these questions are worse than “weird”. They’re actually illegal. I received word about the matter from NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith. He said to me, “I know that the NFL agrees that these types of questions violate the law, our CBA [collective bargaining agreement] and player rights. I hope that they will seek out information as to what teams have engaged in this type of discrimination and we should then discuss appropriate discipline.”
This line of questioning also runs deeper than a few over-zealous general managers in an image-conscious league. It is, according Wade Davis, a longstanding practice. Davis should certainly know. The ex-player went through four different NFL training camps. When practice was over, he would go to strip clubs with teammates in an effort to fit in. After retiring in 2006, he became one of the few former players to publicly come out of the closet. He is now a speaker and activist who sits on the board of You Can Play, an organization devoted to combating homophobia in sports. He said to me, “Regardless of the reason, [these questions are] a completely inappropriate and illegal practice that has been going on since I was playing. In addition, this line of questioning offers players a no-win situation because there can only be one ‘acceptable’ answer to questions around someone’s sexuality. The questioning further reinforces stereotypes around what type of player or players the NFL wants.”