The Offensive Absurdity of the NFL Combine

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The yearly off-season pro-football recruiting event is kind of like a dog show—except with human contestants who get asked about their sexual preferences.

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AP / Michael Conroy

Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), Patrick Hruby (writer, Sports on Earth and The Atlantic) , and Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic) discuss the bizarre antics of the off-season circus known as the NFL combine.


Gentlemen,

Did you grow up racing your friends 120 feet down the block to prove who was the best athlete? Do you take personalty tests that spit out two-digit scores with little if any correlation to your professional abilities? Do you enjoy being asked inappropriate, potentially illegal questions about your sex life? If so, the NFL is ready for you!

Last week was the 2013 NFL combine, the pre-draft event where top college football players are turned into numbers on the scoresheets of pro teams. Despite how obviously asinine it is to differentiate players based on their 40-yard dash times or Wonderlic scores rather than their body of work as a college football player, the league sends out its top talent evaluators year after year to find the next diamond in the rough. You know, the same scouts who saw a slightly pudgy Michigan quarterback at the 2000 combine and were so turned off en masse that the QB fell to the sixth round and 199th pick overall. I'm talking, of course, about Tom Brady.

The latest pre-draft absurdity is the pointed, if not patently offensive, questions about sexual behavior and orientation that many prospects have reported being asked during interviews. The queries are most likely a reaction to the Manti Te'o story and the potential that some players may be hiding their homosexuality from the world, and by extension their potential future employers in the NFL. Colorado tight end Nick Kasa said Tuesday that at least one team asked him, among other things, whether he has a girlfriend and whether he likes girls.

If Kasa's allegation is true, I don't even know where to begin haranguing. First off, the question could be illegal depending on the state privacy laws of the unnamed team that talked to Kasa. Second, what business it is of an NFL team whether a prospect is heterosexual, homosexual, asexual, pansexual, or has illicit sex with space aliens? A manager at Wal-Mart doesn't have the right to ask that question in many states, and if a corporation did that at all there would be a huge (and justifiable) backlash from the public. Finally, why in God's name would an NFL team think a prospective draft pick would tell the truth even if he were gay? There's a reason that there are "no gay people" in the NFL despite the fact that between two and 10 percent of the population identify as homosexual (depending on who you ask). It's that there are gay men in the league, but the stigma against homosexuality in the NFL is so obvious and pervasive that they know better than to speak up. Questions like the ones Kasa was allegedly asked only make that stigma more obvious and better display the absurdity that is the combine.

Am I way off base here, guys?

–Jake

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Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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