An adult answer to a dumb question:
Executive: Do you like girls?
Prospect: No. I like women.
In what might be the greatest introductory scene ever to cross TV airwaves, Lou Grant met Mary Richards and started interviewing her for a job. He offered her a drink. She declined. He pointedly asked again, putting two empty glasses on the desktop. She said she'd have a Brandy Alexander.
Their cultural clash defined, the interview commenced. When Mr. Grant asked her religion, Mary informed him that asking such a question in a job interview was illegal.
He looked at her blankly, then said: "Wanna call a cop?"
Beneath the veneer of the NFL's public outrage about reports that teams questioned a draft prospect's sexuality last week, there almost certainly lies a Lou Grant attitude.
The pilot for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" originally aired in 1970, but the attitude doesn't belong to the era. It belongs to anyone, anywhere, with a job to bestow and no particular need to fill it with that particular interview subject.
The commissioner and the union leaders may be genuinely disgusted by what Nick Kasa told ESPN Denver Radio about his interviews at the combine. The story is a grave embarrassment to the NFL, and if accurate, the questions violated the collective-bargaining agreement. But will Roger Goodell investigate and penalize with the same fervor, if not precision, he brought to the Saints' bounty scandal? Will he and DeMaurice Smith see to it that the 13 teams based in states that recognize sexual orientation as a source of employment discrimination are reported for legal sanctions if any of them asked a forbidden question?
More to the point, how are they going to ask young players on the verge of fulfilling a lifetime dream to rat out people who can bring all their hopes to fruition? Kasa, who did not name the teams asking the questions, already appears to be carefully backing away from the story.
Why wouldn't he? The Colorado tight end is projected as a fourth or fifth round pick. If he goes in the sixth or seventh round or is ignored in the draft altogether, no one could say with certainty what caused the slip, or even that there was one. Those draft projections aren't gospel. End of story.
An undisputed first-round candidate might be able to speak his mind, giving idiotic questions the answers they deserve and publicly revealing the sources of idiocy. Back in 2009, Matthew Stafford embarrassed the 49ers by implying that their consulting psychologist at the combine pressed him too hard about the emotional effects of his parents' divorce. He was destined to be the No. 1 pick. He could afford the honesty. He could afford to stand up for himself, just like Mary Richards back in 1970.
The homage-to-NFL-elders answer:
Exec: Do you like girls?
Prospect: Sure, especially trapped in a tavern restroom with me while my bodyguards block the exit.
By now, it's a rote exercise to point out that the NFL tolerates men accused of rape and domestic violence , but not an openly gay player. But the absence of an openly gay player does not confirm that homophobia would prevail in a 2013 locker room. It says that gay players, wherever they may be, do not yet feel comfortable coming out to the media. It does not say that gay athletes have never come out to teammates or coaches.
The late Pat Tillman ardently supported gay rights, and at his memorial service, his position coach from Arizona State spoke about the intensely philosophical discussions the two of them shared. Lyle Setencich said Tillman once asked him if he could coach gay players. "I can and I have," Setencich said in front of a couple thousand mourners and a bank of TV cameras.
Charles Barkley mocks the idea that gay men can't survive in pro sports if their peers know about their sexuality.
"Any professional athlete who gets on TV or radio and says he never played with a gay guy is a stone-freakin' idiot," he told the Washington Post two years ago . "I would even say the same thing in college. Every college player, every pro player in any sport has probably played with a gay person."
Curt Schilling said something similar about his MLB career recently.
As soon as Kasa started talking, large sectors of the media assumed the questioners wanted to screen out players who would be unwelcome in their locker room. The assumption was that the executives' concerns reflected the homophobia of the jocks.
That line of thinking puts far too faith in the sensibilities of an executive foolish enough to think a gay player will out himself to total strangers at the time it can cause him the most damage. And he'd do it why? Just because someone asked?
Only a dolt would expect a gay man, who would have guarded the secret for years, to be unprepared in a moment like that. Yet we're supposed to believe that such a dolt can feel the pulse of a locker room, can read men who are much younger and more likely to have friends with two moms.
A brutal-truth answer:
Exec: Do you like girls?
Prospect: Only certain parts of them.
Brendon Ayanbadejo, the Baltimore Raven who advocates for gay marriage, appeared on MSNBC's "The Ed Show" on Wednesday night to discuss Kasa's revelation. He told the audience that a gay prospect asked about his sexual orientation should lie to protect his shot at an NFL career.
Later on Twitter, he said: "I feel like I let down my LGBT brothers and sisters on @edshow but yes selfishly I'd tell my @nfl brothers in combine to lie."
Then he tweeted: "Once you have a contract do as you please and what you are comfortable with. Fact of the matter they shouldn't even ask."
Note that he thinks the lying has to happen amid the guys in the suits, not the ones in shoulder pads. The lying has to happen when people are projecting what he will become, not yet seeing -- every day on the job -- who he really is.
And if the question is asked properly, one doesn't have to lie at all. "Do you like girls?" is a euphemism, and it licenses a player to answer earnestly, never playing the questioner's game.
* * *
The straightforward, but not straight, answer:
Exec: Do you like girls?
Prospect: Yes. (My sisters, my cousins, my neighbors, my classmates …)
The most meaningful part of Nick Kasa's story is not that he was asked the questions, but that he found them weird.
He is 22. He will inhabit an NFL visibly different on this issue from the one of five years ago. A 27-year-old entered the league before Michael Irvin, a Hall of Famer, had declared his support for gay marriage. He entered before Michael Strahan stood behind same-sex couples, and before both Scott Fujita and Ayanbadejo had used the Super Bowl as a platform for gay rights, before Chris Kluwe's verbals skills hit homophobia the way Lawrence Taylor took down Joe Theismann.
On Wednesday, NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth wrote an essay for The Huffington Post that was supposed to focus on Black History Month and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr .'s work . He made it about "a modern-day civil rights movement'' instead, and envisioned openly gay players in the NFL.
(Truly) being tough and strong is when you persevere while being ridiculed, ostracized or rejected -- just for being yourself. Any person that flourishes in those conditions would be a great asset to an NFL locker room. Actually, those people probably are already assets to high school, college and NFL locker rooms. And hopefully one day soon they will feel enough support to be openly gay while playing.
This is the NFL's direction. It will hit speed bumps, but it can't be derailed. The executives who can't see this are fossils, useless. Just like Mary in Mr. Grant's office, we don't need to call the cops. These people will give themselves away.
The flipped-bird answer:
Exec: Do you like girls?
Prospect: I like winning. What about you?