Collier: Statistical projections assure gays play in NFL

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Roughly 1,700 men are playing in the NFL during football season, not counting those on practice squads, so the likelihood that exactly none of them are gay is statistically dubious.

The number of gays in the general population has been fairly reliably estimated at slightly less than 4 percent, so it's virtually impossible that the NFL is 1,700 for 1,700 in fielding heterosexuals, even if some portion of the league's players and personnel people would dearly prefer it.

What can be said with absolute certainty is that among the league's players, there are gay activists, as demonstrated again this week when Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing against California's ban on gay marriage.

I'm pretty sure this ties Ayanbadejo and Kluwe for the league lead in amicus briefs filed with the Supreme Court this offseason.

These guys really want to see an openly gay player in an NFL locker room in the near future, but until Ayanbadejo invoked the name of Jackie Robinson this week, I hadn't considered that there might be an activist NFL general manager or three out there as well.

Maybe it's because I'm hoping the first openly gay player won't be subjected to the death threats and psychological torture that greeted baseball's first African American player, but what happened last week in Indianapolis somehow did not conjure for me the courage of Branch Rickey, who signed Robinson to his first big league contract nearly a decade before Rosa Parks, nearly two before the Civil Rights Act.

What happened at the scouting combine according to both Colorado tight end Nick Kasa and Southern Methodist defensive end Margus Hunt was that interviewers from more than one NFL club engaged in clumsy but unmistakable attempts to determine if those players (and presumably many more) were gay.

"They ask you like, 'Do you have a girlfriend?' Are you married? Do you like girls?' and those kinds of things, and you know it was just kind of weird," Kasa told multiple media outlets. "But they would ask you with a straight face, and it's a pretty weird experience altogether."

If Kasa's description is accurate, it indicates he was questioned by someone who is aware that asking a job candidate about sexual preference is both against NFL rules and against the law in the majority of states. The NFL office confirmed its policy and issued a warning, but the idea is that people in the front offices of NFL teams think sexual preference is relevant "measureable," among other things, Ayanbadejo's handle on locker room culture:

"A lot of times a good chunk of the guys say it's wrong to be gay, it's a sin, it says it in the Bible and other religions," Ayanbadejo said in an interview with CBS Radio. "So that's one conversation that we have quite often, and sometimes the guys try to set me up for an intervention and it doesn't really work because I stick to my guns."

Ayanbadejo has plenty of experience defending his viewpoint.

When he first spoke out about gay marriage, at least one Maryland politician nearly had a stroke, if you remember.

"I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse same-sex marriage, specifically, as a Raven Football player," Emmett Burns wrote to Ravens ownership. "Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other. Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement."

The Ravens rightly ignored this conniption, much as the Steelers ignored all sorts of hostility when Dan Rooney campaigned enthusiastically for Barack Obama in 2008. Neither franchise has begun to see empty seats, you'll notice.

Meanwhile, a total conversion has gone under-reported in the case of 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver, who lit up Super Bowl week with his answer to a question about the possibility of having a gay teammate.

"Ain't got no gay people on the team," Culliver said. "They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can't be with that sweet stuff. Can't be in the locker room, nah. You've gotta come out 10 years later after that."

After a round of sensitivity training in California, Culliver now has a severely moderated view.

"I hope people understand because it's coming directly from me and I'm talking to the whole world," Culliver said.

"It is not [how I feel] in my heart."

That's taken in good faith, but what's in the hearts and minds of NFL players and their bosses about gay players, while entering a transition phase, still apparently has some miles to go.

These guys have to know there have been gay players in the NFL. There are gay players. There always will be.

Why is this an issue in 2013?

By the way, did anyone ask Manti Te'o if he has a girlfriend?

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Gene Collier:


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