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Sunday Conversation: Par-for-the-Course or Prying?

Do NFL teams really have a right to know the sexual orientation of prospective players?

Does the Te'o incident give teams a right to ask sexual preference?
Does the Te'o incident give teams a right to ask sexual preference?
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

We live in a society of information. Real-time. Streaming. In the moment. It's just the way we live, love it or hate it.

But in our insatiable thirst for information, is there a point and time that we sometimes cross the line? Do we have a right to know everything about everybody, and if so, by what means is that right granted?

Apparently, many NFL teams believe their right to know extends well beyond the limits of fair play, probing into the personal affectations of prospective draft picks as if evaluating cattle for the slaughterhouse.

News broke this week in the wake of the NFL Combine that several teams asked questions that not only violate the privacy of those being interviewed, but that actually run contrary to federal fair hiring regulations in the process. Mike Florio of opened the proverbial can o' worms by stating on The Dan Patrick Show this week that teams are interested in the sexual affiliation of one slow, turf-hugging Hawaiian with a fake and/or male girlfriend. Florio said:

"Here's the elephant in the room for the teams and it shouldn't matter, but we have to step aside from the rest of reality and walk into the unique industry that is the NFL. Teams want to know whether Manti Te'o is gay. They just want to know. They want to know because in an NFL locker room, it's a different world. It shouldn't be that way."

The story took an interesting turn when former University of Colorado tight end and NFL prospect Nick Kasa said he was asked, point blank, about his sexual affiliation. Kasa's statement on Denver talk radio is as follows:

"Do you have a girlfriend? Are you married? Do you like girls?...Those kind of things, and it was kind of weird. But like they would ask you with a straight face, and it's a pretty weird experience altogether."

Kasa later softened (or "clarified") his statement during an interview on The Dan Patrick Show, stating:

"I don't think it was a serious question .... like do you like girls ... ha ha ha. I think it was more kidding around. I don't think it was an official question."

Despite Kasa's reversing field mid-play (please make of that what you will), the fact remains that NFL teams have a desire to know said information, and may have gone so far as to ask.

Just asking that question, even in jest, is off-limits during a job interview. While asking one's sexual orientation is not "illegal" according to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, the EEOC includes among its "Prohibited Practices" (under the auspices of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), the following:

"Questions about an applicant's sex, (unless it is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) and is essential to a particular position or occupation), marital status, pregnancy, medical history of pregnancy, future child bearing plans, number and/or ages of children or dependents, provisions for child care, abortions, birth control, ability to reproduce, and name or address of spouse or children are generally viewed as non job-related and problematic under Title VII.

"Any pre-employment inquiry in connection with prospective employment expressing or implying limitations or special treatment because of sex (unless based upon BFOQ) or any inquiry made of members of one sex and not the other, is similarly troublesome."

While the marriage question delineated by Kasa's original statement would definitely fall within the scope of the above-prohibited practice, it would appear asking one his sexual affiliation during the interview would violate the intent of the regulation, if not the letter.

What could NFL teams hope to gain by blatantly asking such a hot-button question? Florio repeats that the NFL locker room is "a different world." He states that it shouldn't matter, but it does because it's the NFL, where a different "reality" is at work.

Seriously? I am sure that any employer could make the claim that his or her field is "a different world," and assert that the questions are permissible. I don't buy that line of thought at all.

Let's think it through. Say Manti is a homosexual, hypothetically speaking. Does that change anything about the way he performs on the field? Let's face it, the dude is fair-to-middlin', gay or not. I can't imagine how his on-field performance would be changed at all by a proclamation of his orientation. After all, one does not wake up one morning as a homosexual, but rather spends his life as such. We have his body of work from which to postulate upon his future success, and that wouldn't change despite some revelation about his sexual identity.

So then, there must be something off the field that would create, for the NFL, this special allowance. Maybe an openly gay player would not generate an equivalent amount of revenue through memorabilia sales, jersey sales, etc. Even that is a short-sighted argument, as there are gay football fans, just like there are gay players. I'm sure gay football fans spend their funds in much the same way we hetero fans spend our money. Maybe an openly gay player would become the patron saint of gay football fans nationwide, just as Tebow has become an evangelic icon for the devoutly Christian.

Maybe it has to do with the locker room dynamic. Maybe the guy would get ribbed, disenfranchised from his teammates. Then again, maybe not. Countless NFL teams tolerated the pallet fire known as Terrell Owens (and other prima donnas I won't call by name) because of his on-field ability. Am I supposed to believe that a gay All-Pro player would be scorned and ridiculed, to the point of team disruption, for his sexual affiliation? Maybe I'm just naïve, but there is conflict in many NFL locker rooms, so I don't see how that argument could possibly wash either. Prejudice can't be tolerated just because it's the norm, and discriminating against someone based on sexual preference is not terribly different from ethnic-based or religious-based discrimination.

I would think a good Petri dish for these suppositions would come in the form of the American military, which recently scuttled the infamous "don't as, don't tell" policy in exchange for an environment in which homosexuals can be open about their orientation. Team dynamics in a military setting are critical to not only success, but survival in many missions. If the military can find a way to incorporate openly gay soldiers into the culture of the armed forces in an arena in which lives are on the line, then certainly, it would be possible to accomplish the same in the NFL. After all, as much as we like to sketch out the metaphor, football is not war, and as such, the stakes are much lower.

If a guy runs a 4.4 and has good ball skills (keep it clean, people...), does his sexuality really affect the on-the-field product? Does it make one bit of difference in terms of on-field (or off-field, for that matter) performance?

I understand that the NFL is part of a male-dominated, violent, hetero-centric culture here in the US. And that is perfectly fine, we hetero males tend to love the sport because of it. But to think that a prospect's sexuality should play into his football worthiness in any real, concrete sense just doesn't jive with me. Maybe I'm wrong, but I have not yet heard a convincing argument to the contrary.

I think about some of my favorite Bama players of all time, and whether my opinion of them would change if their sexual affiliations were revealed. I'd be surprised, possibly. I'd have "can you believe..." convos with my fellow football fans. I'm sure the comment sections on our beloved RBR would be full. It would be a veritable festival of NTTAWWT jokes. But at the end of the day, and I think I'm being honest with myself, I wouldn't care. The player is the player, and who he chooses to court is really no business of mine anyway, so long as it doesn't intersect with his duties on the field or his character off.

We are fooling ourselves if we think we haven't already cheered homosexual players on our favorite teams. The statistical odds of it not happening are astronomical. But this begs an even better question, namely, why do we think we have a right to know?

This is the question that more than a couple NFL teams will be answering when Mr. Goodell comes calling. The NFL office has caught wind of Kasa's statements. Reporters' notes, articles and podcasts are being requisitioned by The Shield to investigate these potentially illicit questions as we speak, whether they happened or not. We all know that Rockin' Roger doesn't need something as cumbersome as the burden of proof before taking action, so I expect to see some token act of punishment handed out in the wake of this. The League has made it clear that such practices are unacceptable. Now let's see if they have the spinal fortitude to make a stand.

So does a team have a right to know the sexual orientation of its future employees? Are there extenuating circumstances that would make the practice acceptable for the NFL, despite the fact that it is a prohibited practice in the "real world?" Why do we, or by extension, the NFL, think we have a right to know? Is it a product of our information society in general? Or a function of the absurd practice of paying macho young men millions of dollars to play with an oblong ball?

What do you think? Let's talk...