The NFL Combine each year is a meat market. Players are poked, prodded, and interrogated as teams try to figure out who is worth spending a valuable draft pick on. Everything, from drill times to hand sizes, is measured. Information gathering is the goal. However, recent years have seen more stories leaking out about the wild inappropriateness of some of this information collecting.
Then-Colorado tight end (and current Denver Bronco) Nick Kasa was asked during his combine experience a few years ago, “Do you like girls?” Projected 2016 first rounder Eli Apple was posed the question, “So, do you like men?” Needless to say, these most definitely are not one-offs. And while it should come as some comfort that the coach who put the question to Apple eventually released a public apology, the real issue here is the NFL’s culture.
The NFL has taken great pains in recent years to try and prove that the league is progressive, but it is awfully difficult to take at face value when such incidents find the light of day.
Sarah Thomas’ appointment as the first female referee in 2015 was a great publicity move by the NFL but did not quite have the weight that everyone perceived. Being a referee is a relatively thankless job. At the NFL level, mistakes happen all the time. The zebras are generally as much objects of ridicule as they are police of the game. Few look at refs with admiration in their eyes. It was, in fact, a low-risk move. Worst case scenario: Thomas gets heckled and hated along with every other referee.
Even the more recent hiring of Kathryn Smith as the NFL’s first full-time assistant coach is an empty nothing. “Kathryn has been working in a football administrative role and assisted the assistant coaches for years,” said Bills’ head coach Rex Ryan in a press release at the time of the announcement. A “football administrative role” is distinctly far from coaching, and assisting the assistant coaches is wholly ambiguous. Her official title is the quality control-special teams coach—scintillating. So what does she do? Again, a quote from Ryan says it best:
“A lot of that goes with the tough things. Doing all the computer stuff, doing all the drawings, all that type of stuff. Working mainly with scout teams. … She’s done things like this in the past. With the knowledge and commitment she has – very committed young lady – I think she’ll do a great job.”
While this can mean some additional work with the scout team, it seems like she is primarily a glorified statistician. In any case, she is not patrolling the sidelines with a clipboard in her hands barking out a call in the last minute of a game, but the coverage her promotion received could have easily made one think otherwise as the NFL did its very best to let the world know of its 21st century equality ways.
The fact of the matter is that the NFL will never truly be about equality. You cannot honestly tell me that there will ever be a woman as a head coach. To think a team will ever allow a woman to be GM is preposterous. Both notions are as ridiculous as having a woman lace up some cleats and step onto the field. Just not going to happen.
Football is one of the most macho of all sports. Big, strong men beat each other up and down the gridiron. There is little room for the perceived weakness of a woman, for the athlete possessing a sexual orientation anything other than the “normal” hetero stance, for an actual voice of rights and equality.
The NFL may do its best to hide it, but appointments that amount to little more than token gestures, and acceptance of gay athletes while fresh recruits are openly questioned about their sexuality seems to indicate a culture mired in archaic thinking.