There is something fundamentally abhorrent about the NFL Scouting Combine, recently concluded. Coaches and team executives put prospects through all kinds of drills and ask all kinds of questions. They treat them like slaves.
The NFL slaves can't decide which teams they will go to. They have no freedom of choice. True, differences exist between real slaves and NFL slaves. NFL slaves make a free choice to enter the draft in the first place. No one from Africa ever asked to become a slave and work on a Southern plantation. And NFL slaves make a ton of money, something real slaves never did.
But you get the point. There is a sense of owner and owned in the Combine.
This year, the sense of owner and owned got worse. As you've probably read, one player alleges one team asked about his sexual orientation. Listen to Colorado tight end Nick Kasa, who spoke to ESPN Radio: "They ask you like, &‘Do you have a girlfriend?' &‘Are you married?' &‘Do you like girls?' Those kinds of things, and you know it was just kind of weird. But they would ask you with a straight face, and it's a pretty weird experience altogether."
Try to imagine the position Kasa was in when a team executive or executives allegedly asked if he likes girls — I'll use the word "allegedly." He wants to play in the NFL so he couldn't tell them to take a hike, although that's what they deserved. He had to answer or subtly deflect them, just a horrible position to be put in.
It's also against the law. When I applied to be a columnist at The Press Democrat, no one asked if I like girls. They were not allowed to ask how old I was, if I was married, what church I attend or if I believe in zombies. Discrimination suits happen when interviews stray into personal interrogation.
But the editors at the PD sure wanted to know if I can write, if I can write on deadline without cracking up, if I can cover sports.
In other words, could I do my job? The only criteria for football coaches at the combine are, "Can this young man play football?" And, "Is he a solid enough citizen to reflect well on our organization?"
End of story.
All this probably started because of Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, who conducted a yearlong relationship via email with a woman who turned out to be a man. Lots of people drew the conclusion he's a homosexual, and Katie Couric had the bad taste to ask on television if he's gay. Would someone please throw a pie in Katie Couric's face?
Maybe some NFL teams heightened their awareness of homosexuality because of what happened with Te'o. I'm not saying they heightened their sensitivity or ability to accept human differences, merely their awareness.
I admit the Manti Te'o case was weird. But it wasn't weird because he is or isn't gay. It was weird because the whole story and how it played out and what really went on was, well, weird. As far as Te'o is concerned, we want to know one thing only. Can he play football at the NFL level?
Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim Miller had this to say: "There are some religions that are just not going to accept a gay individual in the locker room. So now, are you as an organization going to bring that element into your locker room and think everything is going to be OK?"