NFL Not Yet Ready For Gay Athletes
Following Colorado tight end Nick Kasa’s claim that interviewers at the NFL combine asked him questions about his sexual orientation, the NFL released a statement saying the league would investigate the claim, and that teams are expected to follow all federal, state and local employment laws.
Expected, maybe. Mandated, obviously not.
Kasa wasn’t the only person asked such inappropriate questions. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and Michigan State running back Le’veon Bell both reported being asked if they are married, have girlfriends or like girls.
Such questioning reveals two serious issues with NHL hiring practices and its embedded culture.
The first is most obvious. The NFL is a hostile work environment for gay men, and no matter the lip service paid, no one is really interested in creating change.
Before the Super Bowl, Chris Culliver spouted anti-gay sentiments during an interview with comedian Arty Lang, who asked the San Francisco cornerback if he had any gay team-mates. Culliver replied, “We ain’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up out here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff. … Nah, can’t be … in the locker room, man.”
The 49ers forced an apology. The league did nothing. Had Culliver worn the wrong type of shoes, he would have gotten hammered. Luckily for him, he only gave voice to the common bigotry within NFL locker rooms.
Earlier this year, 49ers running back Frank Gore was fined $10,500 for wearing his socks too low during the NFC championship game. In 2011, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was hit with a $10,000 bill for calling his wife from the sidelines to let her know he was OK after being pulled from the game with concussion-like symptoms.
The all-to-common problem of machismo that runs
amok in professional team sports was voiced perfectly in an amicus curiae brief filed in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, which is trying to have California’s Proposition 8 ruled unconstitutional. Prop 8 defines marriage in California as between a man and woman. The brief, which was written by Baltimore Ravens line-backer Brendon Ayanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who have been criticized for their support of same-sex marriage, says, “For far too long, professional sports have been a bastion of bigotry, intolerance and small-minded prejudice toward sexual orientation, just as they had been to racial differences decades earlier.”
No active male athlete in a major American team sport has ever come out during his career. Only after years of retirement have they felt secure enough to admit what we already know, that gay men participate in the highest levels of athletics. It’s more than idle fear keeping these men quiet.
A second problem with NFL hiring practices is the shocking lack of knowledge when it comes to conducting a legal job interview. At least, when the potential employee is a player.
On ESPN’s NFL Live last week, former Colts president Bill Polian said everyone knows the rules when it comes to fair and legal interviewing questions. He then went on to prove that, in fact, he doesn’t know. During the discussion whether questions about a player’s sexuality is proper, former Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said it wasn’t, and that the only personal questions he asks of a player is whether he has kids and does he take care of them. The high-volume coach, who has made a second career off soap box speeches of financial and personal responsibility, said such questions are important in understanding a player’s maturity level and commitment to responsibility. Polian agreed. They’re both wrong.
It is illegal to ask job applicants about their marital status, if they have children or how they support those kids. The answers to such questions can be used to discriminate against candidates, and are therefore illegal. That the highest ranking members of an NFL team would not know that is shocking. Or maybe it isn’t. Perhaps panelist Mark Schlereth had it right when he called the interviewers morons, joking, “They majored in PE, just like the rest of us.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell needs to hammer both issues quickly. He must mandate that those in hiring positions have knowledge of employment law, and that homo-phobic comments and actions are met harshly with severe fines and suspensions.