Denard Robinson and Manti Te'o, in simpler times.
Unless you've been living under some rock, you are exquisitely well-versed in the whole Manti Te'o "catfishing" saga. Also, please take us to your rock, because it sounds like a wonderful place. Well, the fallout of the fabricated dead girlfriend reaches far wider than just South Bend; it's rearing its head at the NFL Combine, specifically in the player interviews.
As reported by MLive.com, former Michigan star Denard Robinson was asked about his personal life during the combine interviews, and in a way that is, frankly, not at all acceptable:
Some players were asked at the NFL Scouting Combine whether they liked girls, which could violate NFL policy.
Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson wasn't asked that, per se. But he was asked whether he has a "real girlfriend."
"They ask you, 'Do you have a girlfriend, is she real and how long y'all been together? Is it serious?'" Robinson said this week during a radio interview with Bill Simonson of The Huge Show. "That's the main thing they ask you."
Let's set aside the whole "you like girls, right?" aspect of this—not because it's tolerable, but because it's 2013 and we should all know by now that homophobia is wrong. So screw that part of it, and let's move on.
The other issue requires some explanation, because while you can see where the teams are coming from, that doesn't make it okay. It's obvious that these questions are in reference to the Te'o saga, and teams probably don't want the embarrassment that came from that saga to distract their players and, by proxy, fans.
That's all fine and good, but it's still none of their business, because it has nothing to do with being a good football player.
A little history lesson here (per ESPN.com), when former Michigan State quarterback Tony Banks was a rookie with the St. Louis Rams, his status with the team was jeopardized by his relationship with one Cristal Taylor, a relationship that elevated to her harassing him and his coaches while at "work." That's a nice cautionary tale for the dangers of trusting the wrong people too easily and would seem to give credence to NFL executives who might want to grill potential draftees about their romantic choices.
Here's the problem, though: The only reason we even know about Banks and Taylor is because in 2011, she was found in a much deeper scam with Dirk Nowitzki. Yes, that Dirk Nowitzki, the one who's been putting together a Hall of Fame career and just won his first ring in 2011. The one who's probably the best pick of the 1998 NBA Draft, topping guys like Vince Carter and Paul Pierce. The one who helped save basketball in the city of Dallas. That Dirk Nowitzki.
Taylor was in so deep with Nowitzki, he had proposed to her and was allegedly the father of her unborn child at the time of her arrest in 2009. She was finally jailed on several charges, most of which were theft and forgery related, and Nowitzki moved on with his life and career.
In other words, Nowitzki went through about as bad a case of a woman screwing with him as any athlete in recent memory, and he was still one of the most phenomenal, productive and successful athletes of his generation. So even if this type of thing could have been sniffed out by the world's greatest general manager back in 1998, let's not act like his personal life is any valid reason not to have drafted him.
Moreover, let's not pretend that questions like this would help protect NFL teams from the worst embarrassments. If you would have asked former Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher if he had a real girlfriend and it was serious, he would have told you yes. And then he got a gun and murdered that very real, very serious girlfriend the morning of December 1, 2012 before turning the gun on himself in front of his coach and general manager at Arrowhead Stadium.
Is that an extreme example? Of course. That's the point—this line of questioning doesn't do a damned thing about the actual awful things that can happen in relationships with athletes. It doesn't keep the worst people away from the franchise; it doesn't even force them to be dishonest. It's solely a reaction to Manti Te'o getting embarrassed by someone tricking him into having feelings. And he went public with those feelings before he knew he was being tricked. That's it.
So if that is all that NFL GMs and scouts really want to protect themselves and their players against, if that's the reason they're entering a line of questioning whose only correct answer is "it's none of your business whether I'm romantically involved with anyone or with whom," then their priorities are completely out of whack.
We can do better. We need to do better.