NFL Should Worry About Fake Girlfriends, Not Gay Players

A fake girlfriend and phony romantic tragedy are far worse for the sport's image than a real, gay player.

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BOULDER, CO - NOVEMBER 03: Safety Jordan Richards #8 of the Stanford Cardinals breaks up a pass intended for tight end Nick Kasa #44 of the Colorado Buffaloes to force a fourth down in the third quarter at Folsom Field on November 3, 2012 in Boulder, Colorado. The Cardinal defeated the Buffaloes 48-0.

I can think of a bunch of questions a professional football scout or coach might ask a potential player. Do you take illegal drugs, maybe? Do we need to worry about you carrying an (illegally) concealed gun, then accidentally shooting yourself with it? Are you going to torture dogs on your days off? Do you have an issue with domestic violence? Are you willing to let us toss you onto a field, have huge men pummel you, and possibly give you a concussion that could lead to brain damage later on?

All of those inquiries are more relevant than this one: Are you gay?

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Football Be Fundamentally Changed to Make It Safer?]

And yet players have revealed they have been asked that question—not directly, but in a way clearly mean to figure out the players' sexual orientation. Reports Salon:

Wade Davis, the former Tennessee Titan who came out of the closet last year, wasn't surprised by an NFL recruit saying he'd been asked if he were straight.

After a football game in college, a pro scout asked Davis's coach, "Is Wade a ladies' man?"

"There's a certain cachet in being someone who seemed to be able to get girls," Davis told Salon. "My coach said, 'No, Wade isn't a ladies' man.' I immediately wondered if he'd seen through the mask I'd put up....

"NFL teams go through exhaustive measures to learn everything they can about a player. Because imagine if I'm drafting this guy in the first round; that's millions of dollars. There's an investment. Is he a troublemaker? Is he going to be out all night long? When you're meeting scouts, you put on your best side. But is what he's showing me through these interviews what he's going to demonstrate for three, four, five years?"  Scouts may see a masculine-acting young man in interviews, but want to ensure that the men they recruit are straight — or at least can stand up to direct questioning.

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And ESPN radio reports that University of Colorado tight end Nick Kasa said:

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

What is the purpose, then? Unit cohesion? Even the military—which experiences far more pressure and relies even more on communal support—has given up that argument. Does the NFL, which often seems irritated at having female fans (except when they buy baby T-shirts with team logos) actually believe that women only want to watch football so they can see cute guys in tight pants? That may be a tertiary draw—like the "cheerleaders" who long ago gave up gymnastic moves for hair-swinging are for male viewers. But nope, most of us watch to see a well-executed pass and good blocking help our home team get a touchdown.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on women in combat.]

The more remarkable thing is that if football has had a relationship scandal, it wasn't with a gay player. It was with a Notre Dame player who carried on an online romance with a woman it turned out did not even exist—not even before the player declared himself heartbroken over her untimely death.

It's time for the NFL to get over its homophobia. A fake girlfriend and phony romantic tragedy are far worse for the sport's image than a real, gay player.