As the annual pilgrimage to Indianapolis took place and the NFL Scouting Combine got underway, the usual takes place as NFL prospects are weighed and measured by teams physically and mentally to see how they will translate as players from college to the pros.
From the Wonderlic test to the 40-year dash, players are put through a gauntlet and scouts, coaches and GM’s want to see how they grade out. From that came the eye opening story of draft prospect Eli Apple and we come to realize that in the football community the more things change, the more things stay the same.
Now in all likelihood, the Falcons never thought they would be named when Apple was asked, “what is the craziest question you were asked at the combine?” The fact that someone representing the Falcons thought they had the right to ask the question, is the problem.
First off, that line of questioning is against the law. Secondly, it just shows you that no matter what the NFL or the Falcons say, the true acceptance of the gay athlete in NFL locker rooms has a long ways to go. I am sure the Atlanta Falcons are not the only team that asked that question in Indianapolis, they were the only ones that were outed.
Someone representing an NFL team thought it was relevant information to find out the sexual orientation of a draft prospect. The NFL can send out memos and issue statements, but what really needs to happen to those that represent the NFL shield is they need to evolve and be educated and there needs to be more acceptance.
It was certainly a huge day when former NBA player Jason Collins came out to Sports Illustrated. In February of 2014, Collins signed with the Nets and became the second publicly gay athlete to play in any of the four major sports in North America.
It was equally huge when Michael Sam came out as gay when his career at Missouri was over and he was preparing for the NFL Draft. However, true and total acceptance is unfortunately a ways away I fear. If you can remember, Sam was set to do a reality TV show on the Oprah Winfrey Network. After much criticism, the show was placed on hold.
Flash forward to late January 2016, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce announced that he will take part of a new dating show that will air on the E! Network later this year. Is there any uproar about Kelce doing a reality show? No, not at all. None, whatsoever. Is there any talk that the show will prove to be a distraction for Kelce and where is his focus on the game? No.
Let’s also not forget that ESPN’s Josina Anderson actually reported on the ‘showering habits’ of Michael Sam when he was in training camp with the St. Louis Rams. Any way you cut it, Sam and Kelce were not treated the same way. So that brings us to late last week as Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple relayed a conversation he had with a Falcons assistant coach on Comcast Sportsnet. Apple was asked by a Falcons coach at the Scouting combine, ‘So, do you like men?’ Apple answered, ‘No.’
According to Apple, the coach then responded, ‘if you’re going to come to Atlanta, sometimes that’s how it is around here, you’re going to have to get used to it.’ So as much as the NFL wants to preach acceptance, we get another slap across the face of the stark reality of what is really going on. The Falcons immediately went into CYA mode.
Head Coach Dan Quinn issued a statement Friday afternoon: “I am really disappointed in the question that was asked by one of our coaches. I have spoken to the coach that interviewed Eli Apple and explained to him how inappropriate and unprofessional this was. I have reiterated this to the entire coaching staff and I want to apologize to Eli for this even coming up. This is not what the Atlanta Falcons are about and it is not how we are going to conduct ourselves.”
Keep in mind, NFL teams can’t ask about sexual orientation, which is a violation of employment discrimination laws and league policy. Unfortunately, last week’s story further cemented home to gay athletes across this country that they cannot yet let people see who they really are, which is very sad. So, as much as the NFL wants to talk about acceptance, we know actions speak louder than words. The actions of the Falcons last week shows you the NFL has a long ways to go.