Reports coming out of the recent National Football League (NFL) Combine in Indianapolis have caused a small uproar in the media circles concerning NFL team representatives and their interviews with prospective draft prospects during the combine. It seems that many NFL team representatives have been asking players about their sexual preferences. Players have reported being asked about whether they are married or have girlfriends; about whether they have children and similar questions.
It is well known that in America, sports attitudes towards gay athletes are still pretty conservative. It was just a few weeks ago that San Francisco 49rs cornerback Chris Culliver caused a stir in the days leading up the Super Bowl when he voiced anti-gay sentiments in an interview. He made a comment that the 49rs would not tolerate having a gay teammate in the locker room.
“I don’t do the gay guys man, I don’t do that.” Culliver told radio host Artie Lane. “Ain’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”
Ravens linebacker Brandon Ayabadejo, a noted advocate for equal rights and gay marriage, spoke out against Culliver’s comments in New Orleans. And, he joined MSNBC’s “The Ed Show“ with Ed Schultz on February 27 to discuss what might have gone on inside the combine’s interview rooms.
According to Ayabadejo, teams frequently ask these kinds of questions. Ayabadejo is a strong advocate for gay rights; but, he has advised draft prospects to tell teams what they want to hear so that they won’t be passed over in the draft and wind up signing contracts worth less money.
The problem with this kind of interviewing of prospective employees is that it violates federal laws protecting people against sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace. It is especially troubling to find out that these sorts of things go on in such a public business as the NFL. We live in an era when nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing gay marriages. Public-opinion polling over the past two years consistently shows that a majority of poll respondents favor gay marriage.
NFL spokespersons have been falling all over themselves to try and do damage control, promising that the league will investigate such claims and stating that such tactics run contrary to league policy.
Experts in the field of psychology generally believe that around five percent to 10 percent of the American adult population is gay. Not all of these people are sexually active. Most of them lead shadow lives for fear of retribution in the workplace and of being the targets of social ostracism.
Any pro athlete who thinks that there are no gay athletes on pro teams is living in a fantasy world of denial. The U.S. military has officially ended its “don’t ask don’t’ tell” policy and officially does not discriminate against gays. Other than in locker room conversation, there is no evidence at all to suggest that the presence of gay athletes on a sports team causes problem in terms of on-field performance.
There are always going to be narrow-minded, prejudiced people in all aspects of life. The sporting arena is certainly no exception. It is very difficult to change private perceptions and beliefs. That being said, there is no place in the world of sports for any kind of perception that leagues and teams support discrimination against gays. NFL team executives should be forced to undergo personnel training about what is permissible and not permissible during a job interview process.
Greg Tyler is the Library Director at the United States Sports Academy. He has also taught courses at the Academy in sports law. He worked for years in youth sports as a coach, league administrator and as a soccer referee. He has a law degree and practiced law for a number of years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.