by Ryan Hatley

 

“Do you like girls?”

This was the question that potential National Football League (NFL) draft pick and Colorado tight end Nick Kasa was allegedly asked at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. After Kasa said he was asked about his sexual orientation, at least two other draft prospects came forward and said they were asked similar questions. The NFL launched into an investigation on the matter and recently decided that no misconduct occurred.

“Our review has not established any specific violations, but we have made it clear to our clubs what is acceptable when interviewing potential players and other job candidates[1],” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement Thursday. A number of analysts have expressed that is was no surprise that the NFL found no misconduct in this case[2]. However, as ESPN NFL Insider John Clayton pointed out in an interview with ESPN’s Prim Siripipat, Kasa could not even identify the team or the interviewers who asked him the question. This is understandable given the number of interviews that potential draft prospects go through at the combine, but it effectively ruins any chance that the NFL had a penalizing the conduct.

However, the NFL’s inability to resolve this Kasa’s issue does not mean that NFL teams are free to ask potential draft prospects about the sexual orientation. The NFL is headquartered in New York and New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has made it clear that he considers the questions by any NFL team to be a violation of New York law[3]. Additionally, the new NFL Players Association Collective Bargaining Agreement expressly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in Article 49, Section 1[4]. Also a number of states with NFL teams have anti-discrimination laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The teams in those states would be subject to those laws.

The NFL and NFLPA have both grown increasingly sensitive to the issue of sexual orientation among players in the NFL. Since the scouting combine, the NFL has discussed the issue of sexual orientation in the NFL openly and has consulted LGBT groups about changing the culture in the NFL. The NFL will also hold trainings on gay issues at its annual rookie symposium. The NFL is heading in the right direction on this issue, however, it is the existing locker-room issue with homophobic players that needs to be addressed the most. To this date, not a single NFL player has come out of the closet.

The basis of the NFL’s problem with gay players begins with its history with the military, an organization which did not tolerate openly gay members until 2011. World War II created a generation of players and coaches who saw the game and locker room camaraderie as a metaphor for, or replacement of, war and military life. Think of how many common football terms come from war: drills, bombs, squads, platoons, the blitz, the trenches, the shotgun and even the “rank” of captain all come from the military.

The issues of homophobia in the military and the NFL have common roots. Most military personnel come from and football culture has its deepest roots in the most socially conservative parts of America. Many soldiers, sailors, pilots, guardsmen, players and coaches come from places where gay men not only still struggle for basic civil rights, but for decades faced aggressive and even violent oppression.

Until these deeper issues within football are addressed, many players will struggle with the choice to come out and will continue to face discrimination in the locker room. Despite any of the NFL’s official policies, these players will continue to face illegal harassment from their teammates until this issue is resolved in the broader society.

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