Nick Kasa is a 22-year-old tight end from the University of Colorado trying to get drafted into the NFL, and, as far as aspiring professional football players go, he’s got a pretty good chance. CBS Sports has him rated as the eigth-best TE and expects him to be taken in the middle rounds. Whether he “likes girls” or not wouldn’t seem to play into his appeal to NFL teams, but that’s exactly what he was asked by at least one scout this week.
That Kasa’s relationship with women was probed at the combine appears to be either a blatant attempt to ascertain his sexual orientation or a psychological ploy. Kasa himself said he thought it was a test, designed to see whether he could handle a stressful situation. After all, regardless of whether he is or is not gay, it’s the kind of thing an opponent might say to get in his head.
Meanwhile, NFL analyst Mike Florio claims, teams are awkwardly trying to figure out whether Manti Te’o is gay. As in Kasa’s case, this isn’t definitive proof of homophobia per se; they might be trying (in a cowardly manner) to avoid having to deal with the media attention of having a gay player in the locker room. But in both Te’o’ and Kasa’s situations, either explanation for teams’ curiosity — 1) a team is afraid of gay players, or 2) a team is worried its players can’t handle being around a gay person or being called gay — is bad news for the league.
The NFL as an organization probably wants openly gay players. It’s inevitable that there are going to be out gay pro athletes, and whichever sport the first one plays will get a public relations boost. (Major League Baseball is still happy to remind all of us, frequently, about Jackie Robinson.) But what individual teams want is a more loaded question. The media attention surrounding the first openly gay player in the NFL is going to make Tebowmania seem quaint, and we’ve seen how much coaches and execs like having that kind of distraction involved with their team. (They don’t.) These are people who are under a spectacular amount of pressure to win, and they don’t want anything, including civil rights, interfering with that goal. It’ll be up to the league office — which has said it’s investigating Kasa’s story — to convince them that the price they’ll pay for homophobic behavior outweighs its competitive advantages. But until the league steps in, “do you like girls?” is going to be standard operating procedure.