Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Te'o rumors make NFL look smal

By John McMullen

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has already decided what he would like his legacy to be.

While Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue will be forever revered as economic
geniuses, there was a dark side to their respective watches -- the NFL turned
into a clearinghouse for felons and miscreants.

Goodell wanted to clean that up and has been far more aggressive in terms of
disciplining players, something which has made him fairly unpopular with some
because of it.

The "gotcha" type of nature of the NFL's public relations-fueled performance-
enhancing drugs policy and who it really serves can always be dissected, but
sidelining players for crimes or drug offenses should never be questioned,
even by the NFLPA.

That said, most fans don't really care if their favorite stars are failures as
human beings as long as they can deliver the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the
hometown team. That doesn't mean the leader of the NFL can't or shouldn't grab
for the moral high ground whenever possible, though.

My problem is a selective enforcement of morality and why Goodell doesn't take
a look at some of the decision-makers in his league who embarrass the NFL far
more than an abuser of Adderall ever could.

Maybe Goodell's next ethical outage should be aimed at people like Miami
Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland, who once asked Cowboys star Dez Bryant
if his mother was a prostitute.

Or maybe Goodell should try to find out who wanted to know if Colorado tight
end Nick Kasa "liked girls" at the scouting combine earlier this week.

After all, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has decreed "sex-
stereotyping" as a form of discrimination illegal under Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964

Notre Dame star Manti Te'o was the lead story during much of the combine and
the microscope he was placed under was largely a self-inflicted nuisance.

Te'o, of course, claims he was led to believe a "girlfriend" he had met
online, Lennay Kekua, was a real person who died from leukemia. In reality, a
man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo created Kekua out of thin air.

Tuiasosopo later claimed he concocted the whole "catfishing" scam because he
was in love with Te'o. Subsequent Te'o lies to his own father, his teammates
and coaches, coupled with a failure to come clean immediately are troubling
but tame in comparison to what other NFL prospects have done in the past.

Yet when Te'o ran a predictably slow time of 4.82 seconds in the 40-yard dash
at the combine, you might have thought the sky was falling on the runner-up for
the Heisman Trophy.

In reality, Te'o was supposed to run in the 4.75 range, so chalking up a pair
of runs just over 4.8 were hardly a surprise to anyone, perhaps a slight
disappointment but nothing which couldn't have been cured at Notre Dame's
upcoming pro day.

Speed is certainly an important part of success in the NFL, but it's hardly
some kind of definitive stamp on future success.

Perhaps the best pure football player since Jim Brown, Hall of Fame wide
receiver Jerry Rice, ran a 4.72 at the NFL Combine. Cris Carter was probably a
tick slower than that and he'll be joining Rice in Canton this summer.

A natural instinct in this game turns a 4.72 to a 4.4 rather quickly, just as
a false step renders a 4.4 virtually meaningless.

Te'o's performance, however, was a chance for his detractors to pile on.

Katie Couric of all people exposed what many in the NFL are actually thinking
about Te'o during a high-profile interview with him on her syndicated talk
show last month, and it has nothing to do with speed or lack thereof.

Couric, the former host of "Today" and current ABC News contributor, asked the
6-foot-1, 241-pound Te'o if he was gay.

In a pie-in-the-sky world, that kind of thing shouldn't matter. In the
testosterone-fueled world of the NFL, however, sexuality might be the
final frontier.

After ex-San Francisco 49ers tackle Kwame Harris was arrested for a domestic
incident in late January -- one that revealed he was gay -- comedian Artie
Lange asked current 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver what he would think about
having a gay teammate.

"I don't do the gay guys man," Culliver said. "I don't do that. No, we don't
got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can't
be with that sweet stuff. Nah -- can't be -- in the locker room, man."

Culliver then went on to suggest homosexual athletes should keep their
sexuality private until 10 years after they retire.

Harsh but indicative of the intolerance pervading the NFL culture.

Culliver was vilified, of course, and spent the rest of his Super Bowl week
backpedaling, something that satiated the politically correct crowd but
added little to the discourse and the fact that so many share his views.

No active NFL player has ever come out of the closet yet various studies on
sexuality have pegged up to 10 percent of the population as gay. That number
seems high to many, so let's say it's 5 percent. That would mean 85 current
NFL players are homosexuals.

Statistics aside -- understand there are gay men playing in the NFL right now
and the actual number is -- or at least should be -- inconsequential. The fact
that people go to ridiculous lengths in an effort to conceal who they really
are, is.

The real question surrounding Manti Te'o is a simple one -- can he play?
In fact, that should be the only question.

Unfortunately to some of the more shallow and superficial power-brokers in the
NFL, it's a query which will remain awash in a sea of stereotypes, never to be
asked.
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