Being drafted into the NFL isn’t like getting a job at the salt mines. Teams sometimes invest millions of dollars in recruiting just one player. In addition to evaluating players’ vertical leap and their 40-yard dash time at the annual NFL Scouting Combine in February, scouts and coaches looking to put together a team rake the college athletes over the coals to find out the details of their personal lives, details that may affect a team’s cohesion or branding. Some scouts and coaches may ask, “Are you a ladies’ man?” or “Do you like girls?” or “Have you ever had a boyfriend?”
The questions sparked a media fire when noted Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was reportedly asked whether he was gay, following a scandal in which Te’o was allegedly tricked into believing he was in an online- and phone-only relationship with a young woman. His paramour was actually a gay man, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, disguising his voice to sound like a woman. Te’o has said he is “fa-a-ar from” being gay, but some sources said scouts still asked about his sexual orientation. (Te’o denied being queried on the topic.)
Then University of Colorado tight end Nick Kasa, University of Michigan quarterback-receiver Denard Robinson, and Michigan State running back Le’veon Bell said they were asked similar questions during the Combine.
“It was just kind of weird,” Kasa said in an interview with ESPN Radio. “But they would ask you with a straight face.”
These invasive questions may be as old as the 31-year-old Combine itself. But thanks to the proliferation of traditional, new, and social media, fans know much more about the players, and about the scouting process.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league would investigate these interviews, especially since its own policy protects players against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Aiello also stressed that teams must adhere to applicable employment laws; currently 21 states and Washington, D.C., have such laws, though Congress has yet to pass the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Aiello added that any teams violating the policy would be disciplined.
Still, Outsports editor Cyd Zeigler said teams and coaches are trying to learn as much as possible about these fairly unknown college athletes before signing a contract with them.
“These are 21-year-old kids,” he said. “The NFL is the most popular, lucrative sport in America. Teams see [players] as investments that could be worth millions of dollars.”
But are these general managers and coaches really going to turn away a good player if he answers that he is definitely gay and has a boyfriend?
“There’s no question in my mind that the vast majority of NFL teams would have no problem drafting a gay player,” Zeigler said.
GLAAD’s Aaron McQuade agrees. If that hypothetical player were to answer in the affirmative, he wouldn’t necessarily be rejected from the roster, he said. In fact, now is probably the best time for a professional or college athlete to come out because there are now advocacy organizations and a more gay-friendly media.
“I think in the past if a player wanted to come out, it would have been him and his agent on an island, on their own, trying to deal with it,” McQuade said. “That might be a large reason why no one has come out yet.”
Nowadays, a team might be more prepared to welcome the first openly gay player at the NFL draft in April. “A team is going to do what’s best for them,” McQuade said. And ultimately, the best thing a team can do is win.