NFL Won't Punish Falcons After Assistant Asked Eli Apple If He 'Liked Men'

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NFL Won't Punish Falcons After Assistant Asked Eli Apple If He 'Liked Men'
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy confirmed on March 4 that the league would investigate an Atlanta Falcons assistant coach after he asked draft prospect Eli Apple if he "liked men" at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.  

Speaking to reporters at the NFL owners' meetings on Wednesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed the NFL would not punish the Falcons, per Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk:

“We spent a fair amount of time on that this week,” commissioner Roger Goodell said yesterday at the conclusion of the owners meetings. “I spoke to [head coach] Dan Quinn and I actually spoke to the coach who was involved in this matter. I think the Falcons, as an organization, and Dan Quinn as a head coach, and the coach who was involved, have all taken ownership of this issue, recognized the mistake that was made, have been very forthcoming and have taken the appropriate steps to educate everyone.

“The coach and I spent probably 20 minutes on the phone talking about his learning experiences, how he can use this for a positive step and I was impressed with the way he was handling it. The team has taken on training programs within the organization which I think are all very satisfactory. So I don’t see any further steps at the league level at this point.”

Nate Davis and A.J. Perez of USA Today provided additional details on the investigation on March 7:

The NFL has not yet decided whether to punish Atlanta Falcons secondary coach Marquand Manuel, who asked a player if he was gay at last month's NFL scouting combine.

The league's "review continues," spokesman Brian McCarthy e-mailed to USA TODAY Sports on Monday, when the Falcons identified Manuel as the person who posed the impermissible question — which violated league policy and some labor laws — to Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple.

The Falcons also released follow-up statements on March 7:

Davis passed along comments on March 4 from McCarthy after Quinn said in a statement that he was "really disappointed" in the coach who asked the question.

"This is disappointing and clearly inappropriate as the Falcons acknowledged," McCarthy said. "We will look into it."

The situation came to light during Apple's interview with Comcast SportsNet earlier this month. He was asked about some of the different questions that were posed during combine interviews and provided the Falcons' inquiry as an example:

The Falcons coach, one of the coaches, was like, "So do you like men?" It was like the first thing he asked me. It was weird. I was just like, "no." He was like, "if you're going to come to Atlanta, sometimes that's how it is around here, you're going to have to get used to it." I guess he was joking but they just ask most of these questions to see how you're going to react.

The CSN Philly report also included the full statement from Quinn about the incident:

I am really disappointed in the question that was asked by one of our coaches. 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.

Mark Maske of the Washington Post reported in February 2014 that teams had reminded front offices through a pre-combine memo that they weren't allowed to discriminate against players for any reason, including sexual orientation.

Former Colorado tight end Nick Kasa, who's currently on the Denver Broncos practice squad, faced similar questioning about his sexual orientation at the 2013 combine.

Apple registered 33 total tackles, eight pass breakups and an interception across 13 games in his final collegiate season at Ohio State. The redshirt sophomore is now one of the top cornerbacks available in the 2016 class and could come off the board in the latter stages of Round 1.

This situation shouldn't have any type of impact on the prospect's draft stock. The more important matter for the league is why the Falcons assistant would even raise the question, even if it was meant in a joking manner, as Apple explained in his comments.

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