UPDATE: The NFL is investigating the line of questioning revealed by Nick Kasa below.
Former Chicago Bears Quarterback Jim Miller told a pair of Chicago radio hosts on Tuesday that religion would prevent a gay player from being accepted in an NFL locker room. Miller's comments were made in response to stories that NFL teams are wondering whether Notre Dame star football player and Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o is gay.
From the Chicago Tribune:
“There are some religions that are just not going to accept a gay individual in the locker room,” Miller told "The McNeil and Spiegel Show" on WSCR-AM 670. “So now, are you as an organization going to bring that element into your locker room and think everything is going to be OK?
"Last time I checked, whether it’s Christianity or Muslims or other religions that are out there, they’re just not going to accept it."
However, when pressed for his own opinion ont he subject, Miller said "I could care less. You can play football or you can’t."
So why would the opinion of any other football player - or any other athlete, for that matter - be any different?
The truth is that there are welcoming groups within all world religions. And most athlete interviews (a few members of the 49ers perhaps notwithstanding) reveal that Miller's personal attitude likely prevails in just about all pro locker rooms in the country. Sure, when that day comes, there will probably be quite a few players who maybe don't think their gay teammate should be able to get married. But how many will really think he shouldn't be on the team at all?
The Te'o story is certainly an odd one to be having this discussion about. In January, Te'o said that he had been in a lengthy, long-distance relationship with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, without the two ever meeting, with the impression that Tuiasosopo was a woman named Lennay Kekua. He was asked at the time by Katie Couric whether he was gay, and he said he was not. Now, at the NFL's scouting combine, the question is being asked again.
ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio appeared on the Dan Patrick Show to discuss the unusual combine experience that lays in wait for Te'o; most notably the fact that NFL teams are going to want to know if he is gay.
On the show Florio states:
"Here’s the elephant in the room for the teams and it shouldn’t matter, but we have to step aside from the rest of reality and walk into the unique industry that is the NFL. Teams want to know whether Manti Te’o is gay…They want to know because in an NFL locker room, it’s a different world. It shouldn’t be that way…It's been described to me as the proverbial elephant in the room and I don't think anyone knows how to solve this dilemma (of asking Te'o if he is gay) yet. It's just that they want to know what they're getting.”
Fiorio agrees that teams are thinking about how potentially controversial having a gay teammate would still be for an NFL team, but doesn't go as far as Miller in suggesting they would be unwelcomed. Florio states in the interview that he is not suggesting that an NFL team would completely take Te'o off of their draft board if the former Notre Dame star came out as gay. Yet, the implication that it could hurt his draft stock seems to be there.
It is important, though, for the NFL to show that whether or not a player is gay has no direct impact on their ability to contribute to the team's ability to win.
And apparently Te'o isn't the only one whose sexual orientation might be in question ... every player's is.
Colorado Tight End prospect Nick Kasa told ESPN Denver's CJ and Kreckman that he was asked during a scouting session if he "likes girls." But he suspected a different purpose than actually wondering about his own sexual orientation.
"I think the whole point of the week is to play with your mind to see if you stay focused and stay driven," he said. "There was a couple of questions by coaches … they try to catch you off guard or try to say something you wouldn’t normally say … to see if they can get a reaction. They’re trying to see how badly they can get in your mind."
Still, it's likely a question that coaches and executives are pondering more as an actual possibility now, rather than just trying to rattle a kid. An interesting thought from Deadspin, regarding this current discussion about gay players in the NFL:
...this might be a good thing, this dress rehearsal. We run the gay drill now, as practice for everyone to stake out their positions and vomit half-formed opinions, and let those who'd panic get their panicking done with early. And then, when a gay player does enter the NFL, hopefully we'll be too tired of talking about it to care.
Although instances in the past suggest that not everybody in the league is open and accepting, many NFL players such as Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo have come out not just in support of having a gay teammate, but of that hypothetical teammate being able to marry.
Sportswriter Jason Whitlock, in a column for Fox Sports, discusses the need for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to step in and take action. Whitlock states that it is important for Goodell to, "use this Te’o situation as a convenient excuse to enact tough measures and standards of behavior that attempt to eliminate the homophobic hostility within football locker rooms". Whitlock and many others like him feel Goodell can work to change this environment by enlisting the help of gay-rights activists to train the league and by issuing heavy handed punishments to athletes who promote homophobia.
GLAAD has been working with both Athlete Ally and You Can Play on a proposal to do exactly what Whitlock is suggesting. There is both an opportunity and a need to teach here, and we certainly hope Goodell and the NFL recognize that fact.
GLAAD Sports Media Intern Elliott Moore contributed to this story