NFL Must Investigate Context in Asking Players Questions of Sexual Orientation
"Do you like girls?"
That question, along with other personal queries like, "do you have a girlfriend?" and "are you married?" was reportedly asked to Colorado tight end Nick Kasa during the individual team interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine. Kasa told ESPN radio in Denver, "They would ask you with a straight face, and it's a pretty weird experience altogether."
One's sexual orientation is a terribly unfair topic to introduce to a prospect during a job interview, unless the only goal is to judge the reaction, not the response.
Still, the NFL has denounced the introduction of that question, stating they will fully investigate the situation. Let's face it, the investigation should consist of asking Kasa which teams asked the question, then pressing the teams to find out why they did.
The why matters.
Publicly, the league was quick to distance itself from the question of whether or not a prospect likes girls, with NFL spokesman Greg Aiello stating (via NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal):
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. We will look into the report on the questioning of Nick Kasa at the scouting combine. Any team or employee that inquires about impermissible subjects or makes an employment decision based on such factors is subject to league discipline.
The NFL investigation must first figure out which teams asked that question, and whether the question was asked to every player they chose to interview or just certain players.
Truth is, more than any offseason in recent memory, a player's sexual orientation—and the notion of a gay player being in the locker room—is a real topic in the NFL.
In advance of the Super Bowl, San Francisco cornerback Chris Culliver was roundly admonished for saying he would not be OK with a gay player in the locker room. He later apologized for those views after immense public backlash.
Manti Te'o also participated in the combine and was asked questions during his media availability that were nearly as invasive as "do you like girls." When Te'o sat down with Katie Couric in his first on-camera interview after the girlfriend hoax was made public, the veteran interviewer asked the NFL prospect if he was gay.
"No. Far from it. Faaaaaar from it," was Te'o's response. He had to know Couric would ask the question—with both Couric and Te'o sharing a publicist, it stands to reason the hot-button questions were cleared in advance—so Te'o had time to tailor his response to that question before it was asked.
The way he answered the question, dripping with machismo in a rare break from the humility and embarrassment he showed the rest of the hour with Couric, said more about his response than the actual answer he gave.
In an interview, it's often the reaction that matters more than the response.
If an NFL team asked Kasa (and presumably others) the question of whether or not he likes girls to gauge the reaction to such a personal invasion, the question is fine. If they use the response as part of an assessment of whether or not to draft him, the question is very far from fine.
In other words, if the question is part of an overall stress test to see how a prospect can handle the pressure of personal questions, anything should be fair game. If a team is asking prospects if they are gay to use against them on their draft board, they should all be fired.
Rosenthal mentioned in his report on NFL.com that Steve Mariucci of NFL Network asked quarterback Geno Smith what the "drug of choice" was on the West Virginia campus. Mariucci surely didn't care what the drug was—the response wasn't important—as he was looking for how Smith would react to the question. (According to Rosenthal, Smith was stunned and said he didn't know, which was probably the best reaction and response he could have given.)
A few years ago, Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland was torn apart by NFL media for reportedly asking Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute. Many people thought the question was out of bounds, and perhaps using that answer to help determine the kid's character was unfair—but if the question was asked to see how someone like Bryant, who had some serious character issues and a chip on his shoulder heading into the draft, would react in an instantly stressful situation like a team asking about his mother, that mission was accomplished.
(Even in the case of Bryant, context mattered. Ireland was widely criticized for the question, in part because, let's face it, people in the media thought he was a jerk already. That just validated it. If, say, Bill Polian had asked the question, one wonders if the response would have been different. Perhaps not.)
With the question of asking if a player likes girls, the context clearly matters. As stated before, both here and in other stories where this topic has come up, whether a player is heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual or asexual should have no bearing on how well he can throw, run, catch, tackle or kick. It will be a great day in the NFL when a player can proudly and openly live a personal life without the judgment or stigma that is tethered to being a gay athlete.
The time for a player to come out while still playing the game is slowly approaching, but that time is for the player to decide—not the media, not Katie Couric and not the NFL teams asking those questions at the combine. Still, that does not mean the question is as off-base or out-of-bounds as our current state of political correctness unilaterally decries it to be.
Players are put into stressful situations where a millisecond slower reaction on the field could be the difference between defeat and glory. If teams find that asking deeply personal questions can help gauge how a player will handle pressure, the information could give them a clearer picture of whether or not those prospects have the right mental makeup.
If I had 15 minutes with a prospect whose body had been poked and prodded and weighed and measured like the NFL combine does to these kids, I would spend my time poking, prodding, weighing and measuring his brain, too, asking far more specific and, frankly, intrusive questions than simply "do you like girls?"
Knowing what he answers is far less pertinent than how he answers.
Let's hope—for the sake of the NFL and those who run its teams—that this is what happened at the combine this year. Let's wish—for the sake of cultural progress—that a player's sexuality is not actually an issue.
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