Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Long And Not Straight Road

The tight end with the tight issue
Former Colorado tight end Nick Kasa says that NFL teams at the combine asked him a series of questions that touched on his sexual orientation, leading to what the 6'-6" 260 pound senior called "a pretty weird experience altogether." He then backed away (slowly?) in later interviews, but the bigger point has already been made. The NFL is said to be launching a probe.

Mostly, that NFL teams can, and will, ask any possible question, fair or foul, to try to eliminate any variable from the pursuit of talent. And given the money involved, this really isn't all that surprising.

(Also, that very easy comedy can be made out of this, in that words like "probe", "tight end" and "pretty weird experience" just lend themselves to all kinds of Beavisian snorts. But I'll leave that to the rest of the Internets.)

And yet...

Um, how much are we, as a society, willing to overlook just because it's The National Football League? Especially when the questions are plainly illegal, and would be flagged by any HR department with a pulse?

I've been employed by a couple of dozen companies in my life, and interviewed at a bunch more. I've never heard a question about my sexuality, because, well, it's (a) illegal, and (b) utterly pointless, since there's no correlation between that and productivity, innovation or dedication. But then again, I've never interviewed for a job where I had to make a lifetime of money in 5 to 10 years of health-threatening work, and my hire would become a matter of public debate.

There's also something to be said, of course, about The Fear Of The Gay that's so plainly being shown here. Most people under 35 don't give much of a damn, since they grew up in a world and social setting where there were role models, and the people who demonized the other were more or less shown to be ignorant boobs, rather than paragons of the community... but that applies only to members of the general public, and also on the coasts, rather than the heartland. Football players are a different breed and come from, for the most part, different parts of the country. And their coaches are much older than that, of course.

But the historical pattern of sports is that people from different walks of life bond over it. What, after all, is a different race or creed or orientation when faced with the need to work together to win... and denigrating a teammate is rarely kosher.

Lastly, this. The NFL is still the sport where players are at the most at risk for intentional injury. Rolling into a guy from behind, "falling" at the wrong moment to cause trouble and trash, and the basic car crash that is special teams play or fumble recovery give opportunities for haters, and the fact that it doesn't happen more often (seriously, if the Patriots were so hated, why doesn't every game with them end with mysterious injuries?) is a testament to the unspoken brotherhood of players, and the hidden excellence of officials and coaches.

Could there be, well, carte blanche given to target a gay icon or pioneer? Especially if said gay icon or pioneer was outspoken, militant, or well-compensated by niche advertisers?

It's possible. And certainly not a circus that any NFL team is going to want to put up with from a bench player. (Which is why, well, bench players are rarely pioneers.)

Personally, I think you'll see an out player within five to ten years. There's too many football players, too much money, and too much modern sensibility to share your life while being proud of your background. But I live in a blue state, have known people on the other team for decades, and tend to overestimate the speed of change in society. Your mileage may vary.

But rest assured, this train isn't slowing down. Or leaving the world of sports unaffected.

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