Whether fairly or unfairly, speculation into Manti Te’o’s sexual orientation has followed him into the NFL Scouting Combine this week in Indianapolis.
It should come as no surprise to say the NFL operates on a different plane than most other businesses in this country, a truth that trickles down all the way to the interview room.
For example, in most places of work it would be odd for an interviewer to ask a job applicant if their mother was a prostitute. And yet, while being interviewed by teams prior to the 2010 NFL Draft, that’s exactly what then-prospect Dez Bryant was asked by Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland.
Often used as a tactic to test a player’s patience, in some cases this brash style of questioning has a more direct intent behind it.
Not to justify such an absurd line of questioning, but in July of 2012 Bryant was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of family violence for an alleged physical confrontation with his mother.
It’s true NFL teams are looking for character guys, but more often than not, they’re maximizing their opportunities to weed out future media distractions.
“Let’s just say that somebody drafts Manti Te’o or any other player, but a first-round draft pick, and just before Training Camp a story comes out that he’s gay or he announces he’s gay,” John Feinstein told 106.7 The Fan’s Holden and Danny Wednesday. “That’s going to turn your Training Camp into an absolute circus. It just is.”
The point is, however malicious certain questions may seem at the time of the interview, team officials wouldn’t bother asking them if there wasn’t legitimate concern for the response.
“If somebody came in to interview there at the radio station, and Chris Kinard were to say to him, ‘By the way, are you gay?’ He’d probably get hit with a lawsuit. That’s not something you can ask,” Feinstein continued. “But within the context of professional football, it’s different. And it’s different because jock world is the most homophobic part of our society.”
And legally, most teams are covered.
According to Yahoo! Sports, 13 of 32 NFL franchises are prohibited by law from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Then there’s the machismo quality commonly associated with NFL locker rooms to take into account. While we live in a progressively accepting society in America, conservative ideals still dominate the league, from the coaching staff on the sideline on down to the players who take the field.
“You guys both know that the ultimate putdown in any locker room is the pejorative of gay,” Feinstein said. “That’s a fight if you call somebody that. It’s particularly true in football because there are a lot of very right-wing, Christian fundamentalists who play football and who coach football, and who believe homosexuality is a sin.
So if you are a football team and you are thinking about drafting somebody, if you believe that they may come out or they may be outed at some point, it’s something you have to take into account. It’s not fair. It’s not right. But it’s a fact of jock life.”
While it may seem irrational or even intrusive to ask a player about his sexual preference or his relationship with his mother, as long as they’re protected by law, teams will continue to ask these hard-hitting questions in the NFL.
Even if for no other reason than to observe the reaction.