Manti Te’o is predictably the center of attention at the NFL combine. People are really interested in a highly publicized player who found himself embroiled in a salacious dead-girlfriend hoax. Go figure.
When the initial story broke last month, it didn’t take long for questions about his sexuality to arise. Many wondered if Lennay Kekua was created to mask the Notre Dame linebacker’s true inclinations.
Te’o famously told Katie Couric he was far from homosexual. And yet, that was not the end of it.
NBC Sports’ Mike Florio appeared on Dan Patrick’s radio show yesterday and reported that NFL teams want to know if Te’o is gay. This is not surprising considering the far-reaching personal interviews each prospect conducts. Teams want to know as much as possible about the man they’ll be paying millions of dollars.
This presents a problem because, under league rules, they can’t ask about a player’s sexual orientation.
Despite landmark legal and societal victories in the past decade, no athlete in the major four sports has come out as gay while he was active player. Plenty have done so after their careers were over.
NFL voices are decidedly split on if a gay player would be accepted. Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brandon Ayanbadejo have been outspoken in their support. Meanwhile, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver created headlines before the Super Bowl when he voiced a conflicting view.
In a perfect world, the fight for equality in a football locker room would be the same as the fight for equality in society as a whole. In reality, this is not the case.
The NFL exists in a bubble. It is in many ways a nonsensical pursuit where gladiators willingly sacrifice their health and longevity for glory and money. One could argue that the league exists in a less evolved ecosystem that’s difficult for the outside world to pierce.
I’d like to believe the NFL is ready for a gay player. Candidly, I think if a guy can compete on the field, his sexuality should be as inconsequential as what he eats for breakfast. But deep down, I know that it’s not that easy.
What should happen and what will happen are two completely different things.
ESPN’s Ryen Russillo said yesterday on his radio program that a gay player in the NFL would essentially face a struggle as difficult as the one Jackie Robinson endured. I agree with him. Changing perceptions and, more importantly, the status quo is never easy.
The media scrutiny on football’s first openly gay player would be intense. His every move would be dissected and analyzed. Our 24-hour sports cycle would force pundits to have an opinion. In short, it would be a big goddamn deal.
It’s going to happen at some point. The question is, if that time is now?
What do you think?