February 28, 2013

Equality In The NFL Is An Elusive Dream

New York Giants MetLife Stadium

Martin Rogers, a sports columnist who covers the National Football League for Yahoo! Sports, posed the question “can NFL teams ask Manti Te'o if he's gay?” He responded with “Depends on which teams are doing the asking.”
A quirk in the American legal system means that NFL teams are governed by differing laws on the level of intrusive questioning they can impose on potential draft picks such as Manti Te'o.
Te'o's sexuality has been the subject of much debate following the fallout of the Notre Dame defensive star's hoax girlfriend saga that thrust him into a storm of media attention and, unfortunately, public ridicule.
One NFL insider, NBC Sports' Mike Florio, said Monday that several NFL organizations would like to know whether the powerful Hawaiian linebacker is gay, describing the matter as the "elephant in the room."
However, a number of NFL executives told Yahoo! Sports' Michael Silver that in interviews with Te'o they did not ask him about his sexuality.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve certainly heard about Notre Dame University linebacker Manti Te'o and his “imaginary” girlfriend or friend/boyfriend/penpal/sexting partner.

In Rogers column, he goes on and does a thorough analysis of which states offer employment protections for LGBT individuals, and which states do not. The reason for the analysis is the fact that Te’o is eligible for the upcoming NFL draft, and there are fans, coaches, and NFL executives that want to know if Te’o is gay.

Rogers found that of the 32 National Football League franchises, 13 teams are in states with employment protections for the gay community, and 19 teams are in states lacking those protections.

"Teams are expected to comply with the law in terms of any employment interview," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Yahoo! Sports in an email on Tuesday.
This, however, creates an imbalance. While federal law protects certain characteristics from discrimination, such as race, gender, religion or belief and disability, it "has been slow to catch up on aspects like sexuality," according to Professor Dylan Malagrino, a sports law expert from Western State University College of Law, in Fullerton, Calif.
"There is no federal protection and it has become a state law matter," added Malagrino. "Some states, like California and Minnesota, have been very proactive. But some states there is no protection at all, and teams in theory could ask inquisitive questions into someone's private life and sexuality."
There’s no question that this situation illustrates the need for a federal employment non-discrimination law that applies to all 50 states, and the NFL needs to adopt a similar policy that governs all 32 teams.

What I find reprehensible, is the fact that all of these narrow minded NFL coaches and executives feel that it’s their business to inquire whether a potential draft pick is gay or straight. Whether it’s Manti Te’o or MLS player Robbie Rogers or anyone else, in a professional environment this should be a non-starter.  I thought we’d moved beyond this, and I’m obviously wrong.

Any LGBT athlete can attest to the fact that one’s sexuality has no impact on how they play the game on the field or in the arena. It has no impact on how they conduct themselves in a locker room, and professional athletes are professionals!

Prospect Nick Kasa, a tight end from Colorado, told ESPN Radio Denver that teams asked him about his sexual orientation, though in a veiled way.
"[Teams] ask you like, ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ Are you married?’ Do you like girls?’ " Kasa revealed. "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."
I love football. I follow my alma mater’s football team, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, religiously. I grew up as a fan of the New York Giants, and I follow them too. I used to follow the San Francisco 49’ers, and went to two Super Bowls to watch them play - but when the team owner Denise York and her husband told San Francisco to drop dead - I decided then and there that the 49’ers are dead to me. The only reason I bring this up is to illustrate that I’m a football fan.

It’s usually an elderly auntie, or a distant relative, that pinches your cheek and asks “do you have a girlfriend?” NOT NFL coaches and scouts who are nosy or afraid to be more direct, because they know it’s none of their business what anyone does in their bedroom or off of the field.

In many ways the equality movement has made dramatic strides and come so far, and it’s a story like this that reminds us, we haven’t gotten very far at all. We still have a long way to go, and have to do a lot of educating to do, before everyone has true equality. Until then, it’s still an elusive dream.





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