Originally published February 26th, 2013
“Are you gay?”
Katie Couric asked the question out loud, and there was a collective gasp. Until that moment, the majority of the news surrounding Manti Te’o revolved around how a seemingly honest and hard-working, family dedicated, and religious player could be duped by someone posing as a girlfriend online. As the story evolved, others questioned whether Te’o was personally complicit in the hoax as an effort to drive a growing Heisman campaign. Quietly, there were others like myself that wondered if it was something else entirely.
Are you gay? You. Reading this. Are you gay? For most of us, sexuality isn’t an issue. It doesn’t impact our jobs, it doesn’t impact our friends. For the most part, we choose where we work, we choose our friends, and for most of us, our personal lives aren’t on display. But that question is coming up for Te’o again this week. The media is starting to wonder louder, the calls are coming into sports radio, and the rumors are that it’s a “concern” with NFL executives. A concern? The NFL should realize that Manti Te’o being gay is actually the best possible scenario for not only the NFL, but for Te’o personally. Bear with me and I’ll explain.
NFL executives need to analyze the 3 possible scenarios associated with the Manti Te’o story.
- Manti Te’o is a complete moron.
- Manti Te’o is a liar.
- Manti Te’o is gay.
- Manti Te’o is a complete moron. The idea that a football player on one of the most high-profile College Football teams in the country would choose to “date” a woman online is unlikely enough, but the idea that he would maintain a long distance relationship with a person he’d never met, while occasionally talking to “her” on the phone only to find out that not only is she not real, but she is a guy, would put him in the Hall Of Fame of stupidity. A player on the team was recently quoted (anonymously) that Manti Te’o was incredibly naive. Naive would be a good word for it, but so would moron. If you choose to believe that Manti Te’o is indeed a moron, is he the right fit for your NFL franchise?! Isn’t that the worst case scenario?
- Manti Te’o is a liar. Manti made it all up. It was his idea to boost his chances for the Heisman. He figured the sympathy vote would help him in the polls, so he concocted a story for fame and potential fortune. When the cover was blown, he took the A-Rod route: Deny, deny, deny. The NFL is about a lot of things, but for an NFL defense, aren’t some of those keys respect and trust? Everything that Manti says or does will be analyzed by the team, by his teammates, by the media, and by the fans. If Te’o takes a wrong turn personally, DUI, drugs, PEDs, relationship problems, etc., he’ll be skewered and judged faster than the rest of the league because he has history.
- Manti Te’o is gay. A Mormon man that chooses to leave the island to go to a the preeminent Catholic university in the Nation? Neither is really known for their support of homosexuality. Is it that surprising that a star football player, and a candidate for the Heisman trophy, is going to do everything and anything he can to hide it? It’s different for most people — No one is following me to class, handing me numbers at parties, or trying to get close to me at every chance. I don’t play football for a Championship contending team that plays on TV every Saturday. Easiest way out? “Sorry, I have a girlfriend.” There’s a big difference between lying to protect your privacy vs lying for personal and financial gain, especially when your lifestyle “choice” isn’t accepted in your community or your university.
It’s sad that so many people see being gay as the “worst case scenario” for Manti Te’o, when in reality it could be the best. Understand that regardless of the three — whether he’s a moron, a liar, or gay — Manti Te’o is going to be brutalized on the field by rival fans and players. Take it head on and turn it to your advantage. The League’s first openly gay player is going to see unrivaled attention and protection from the League. There are HUGE marketing implications for an openly gay player, that for the right player, could be exploited for gains for the League and the player! A recent gallop poll stated that the public estimated that over 20% of men and women were gay. The Williams Institute at UCLA estimates that approximately 3.5% adults are gay, and another 1.8% are bi-sexual. Split the difference — 12%? That’s a lot of jerseys. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of gay football fans, embrace them too!
Is Manti Te’o gay? Who knows. But why is it wrong for the NFL if he is? Professional sports are ready for an openly gay athlete, all it takes it the right scenario to change the culture in the League. The minute Tom Brady stands in the middle of the field and puts his arm around an openly gay player, in homage to Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson, is the day things change. The problem for the League is whether Manti Te’o has the strength that Jackie Robinson had to have the strength not to fight back when greeted with ignorance and hate.
There will be an openly gay athlete in professional sports. There are already gay athletes there now! There are undoubtedly gay football players, baseball players, and basketball players. There are gay golfers and race car drivers. At some point a league, any league, is going to take the next step to make a statement and embrace it — and they’ll see the profits follow right behind it — all for just doing the right thing.