Are the Philadelphia Eagles one of the NFL teams trying to find out if Manti Te’o is gay? Suspicions that Te’o is hiding something about his sexuality persist, even after he told Katie Couric that he is not gay. And Mike Florio, a well-connected reporter for Pro Football Talk and NFL Sports, says that several teams are trying to get the answer to that question before the NFL draft. If the report is correct, any team actively investigating the sexuality of a potential employee would be violating federal law.
This week, Te’o showed up at the NFL combine to try to impress future employers, but didn’t. Te’o ran the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds—fast for normal human beings, but lumbering for an NFL pro prospect. Te’o's stock plummeted, possibly out of the first round and into the second. The Philadelphia Eagles have the fourth pick in the second round.
According to Florio, it’s not just the turtle on the track that hurt Te’o, but the elephant in the room. Any team that picks the Notre Dame defensive star and Heisman Trophy runner-up, wants to know what they are in for, both on and off the field.
You may say, “It’s none of their business if he is gay.” But consider this: There is not one openly gay player in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB, and no one has ever come out while they were still playing. According to Florio, teams may not want the distraction in the media or in the locker room.
It would seem that the most difficult closet door to open in America leads to a pro locker room where muscles and money allow grown men to act like adolescents. Case in point, in an interview leading up to the Super Bowl, Chris Culliver, a player for the San Francisco 49ers, was asked if there were any gay players on the team. “Nah, we ain’t got no gay people on the team,” Culliver answered indignantly. “They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah, can’t be in the locker room.” He has since apologized, but it exposes a prevailing locker room attitude.
Across the country, poll after poll shows America is becoming more and more accepting of homosexuality. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 89 percent of Americans believe gay people should not be discriminated against. But pro sports isn’t there yet, with NFL owners reportedly illegally investigating a potential employee’s sexuality, and locker rooms that ooze with homophobes.
Manti Te’o says he is straight, and we should take his word for it purely because it doesn’t matter. Either he can play in the NFL or he can’t play, that’s what matters. If he is gay, we don’t need to know unless he chooses to tell us.
I do believe the first pro player to come out will be surrounded by public support, if not locker room and team support. It will take someone with courage and the right temperament. The Manti Te’o whispers prove that it does need to happen, because once a player comes out and the controversy subsides. It will die forever. Gay America is still waiting for its Jackie Robinson.