As the public and the media begin to grow weary (we hope) with the controversy involving former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, the fake dead girlfriend story hasn’t begun to die for teams interested in Te’o's talents.
The lying to his father and Te’o's failure to come clean once he knew or should have known that the dead girlfriend was neither real nor dead are minor issues in comparison to things other players do. That’s a point former Chiefs G.M. Scott Pioli made eloquently during Friday’s Pro Football Talk on NBC Sports Network.
But the elephant in the room for many scouts relates to the question that Katie Couric abruptly posed to Te’o — and that Te’o answered in a way that speaks volumes as to the current culture of football: Is Te’o gay?
If he is, it shouldn’t matter. Still, people go to extensive lengths in an effort to conceal who they really are, thanks to a society that in many respects still doesn’t tolerate or accept those who are different. Thus, the fact that no current NFL player has come out of the closet proves that the NFL isn’t ready for a player to come out of the closet. Who, after all, would be better to gauge the response to an openly gay NFL player than a closeted one?
With Te’o, the fact that his fake, dead girlfriend was actually a real, live male has done nothing to resolve questions that originated with speculation that having a pretend female in California provided plausible cover for not chasing real ones on campus. With Ronaiah Tuiasosopo admitting to Dr. Phil that Tuiasosopo was in love with Te’o, the unanswered question became whether Te’o had any inkling that he, too, was in love with a man.
It shouldn’t matter. In the NFL universe, it just does. Right or wrong (i.e., wrong) for it to matter, it does.
And so at a time when everyone seems to be bracing for the moment when the league will welcome an openly gay player, teams are trying to figure out whether they would be drafting a closeted one.
This doesn’t mean that any teams would take Te’o off the board if he turned out to be gay. (Of course, some could choose to shy away from him without ever articulating the reason.) Given the realities of NFL locker rooms, however, teams simply want to know what they’d be getting.
Again, it shouldn’t matter. In the NFL universe, it just does.