Manti Te'o Gay? The NFL and its Intolerance Problem

When the Manti Te’o hoax came out, speculation abounded. Was he in on it? Could he really be that gullible? Is he gay?

While the former Notre Dame star has denied being gay, the hoax still appears to be an issue for the NFL. At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, which lasted February 20-26, Mike Florio of NBC News reported that the "elephant in the room" for NFL general managers is that they "want to know whether Manti Te’o is gay."

Meanwhile, University of Colorado tight end Nick Kasa revealed that teams have more or less asked him whether he is gay. For a league with a horrible reputation regarding equality in the locker room, the NFL clearly has reached a point where they need to fix whatever issue it is they have with homosexuality. 

There are conflicting thoughts on what it would mean for Manti Te’o to be gay. Bill Simmons of Grantland wrote:

"I hate speculating on someone's sexuality, but you can't deny the following point: Only by admitting he's gay (if that were true) could everything that just happened to Manti Te'o seem, for lack of a better word, a little more normal … We wouldn't dwell on the details of the hoax itself as much as on someone being so desperate to remain in the closet that he did whatever it took to stay there. And going forward, we'd always remember him as the guy who broke down that final barrier — the first active, famous sports star who admitted he was gay, then tried to enjoy a prosperous career in our most popular team sport."

When the story first came out, I wrote that Manti Te’o being gay may be the only thing that makes sense. Simmons agreed, and even said he could become a champion of gay athletes. Simmons argues that if Te’o were gay, it could be one of the first stories of an uncloseted homosexual excelling in sports.

Instead, Te’o denied being gay. And he did so emphatically: "No, far from it. Far from it," Te’o told Katie Couric. The rest of the interview saw Couric calling Te’o naïve and gullible, with Te’o in agreement. As soon as she asked if he was gay, he got defensive. Michael David Smith points out, "The bad news is that Te’o seems to think that if you’re an aspiring professional football player, you’re better off being labeled naive and stupid than gay. The awful news is that he might be right."

The NFL has a gay problem. Before the 2013 Super Bowl, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver openly said gay players would not be welcomed on the team. Now, at the NFL Combine, Nick Kasa, the Colorado tight end expected to go in the fourth or fifth round of the NFL Draft in April, claimed that NFL teams asked whether he was gay. "[Teams] ask you like, do you have a girlfriend? Are you married? Do you like girls?" Kasa said on ESPN Radio.

The NFL is investigating the Kasa interview situation. Whether or not an NFL team can ask a player if he is gay depends on employment laws in the team’s state. That being said, 19 NFL teams can ask about a player’s sexuality, leaving 13 teams that are prohibited from doing so.

Connor Simpson of The Atlantic argues that now is the time for the NFL to advance their positions on gay rights. They failed to do so with Culliver’s anti-gay remarks, but now, with reports of teams asking whether players are gay and the possibility of negative effects on hiring and drafts, something needs to be done.

Simpson's right. Whether Manti Te’o is gay or not doesn’t mean he can’t make an open field tackle. The NFL investigating the Kasa interviews is a start in the right direction, but let’s hope that the NFL continues making the league a more gay friendly place.