If I added up the time I spend watching football, researching players, and writing weekly fantasy recaps for my league, it would probably be at least a part-time job.
It used to be that the biggest question I dreaded was, “Where did you go to high school?” In my hometown of San Francisco, it is used as the laziest way to identify someone’s “social group/status” and, therefore, is a question -- whether I agree with it or not -- that’s thrown out often. While part of me loathed the idea of being labeled by my high school, the bigger issue was that I didn’t want to answer the question at all.
See, for me, the answer didn’t just give a sense as to how much money my family had, what neighborhood I grew up in, or which crowd I ran with. Rather, my answer told a slightly darker story.
I was “lucky enough” (as my mother insisted) to attend one of the most elite prep schools in the United States. For a year, that is. Until my best friends turned me in for smoking pot and the school decided I wasn’t welcome back. Six weeks and two high schools later, my mother shipped me off to a reform school in Utah with corporal punishment and alarms on the doors. I stayed there until I graduated.
So, you can imagine, “Where did you go to high school?” wasn’t an easy or fun question to answer in the immediate (read: over 10 years) aftermath of that experience. Because no matter what I answered, the person inevitably ended up with more information about me than I felt comfortable giving a stranger.
The worse incident of this, however, occurred during a job interview. The interview was in San Francisco and, somehow, it came up that I was raised in San Francisco. “Here we go,” I thought. And yes, of course, his next question was about where I attended high school.
“I actually went to boarding school,” I said. My standard response for avoiding the question.
“Oh! Which one?” he asked, enthusiastically.
“Choate? In Connecticut?” I replied.
“I WENT TO CHOATE!” he exclaimed.
And then he started asking me if I knew so and so. And so and so. And so and so. Until finally, I just blurted out. “Well, I only went there for a year.”
“Apparently they don’t like you to smoke pot at prep school!” I laughed awkwardly. I mean, what else was I going to say?
Of course, he didn’t let it stop there. He asked more questions until I was finally confessing, while sweating so hard my butt was stuck to the leather couch on which I was sitting, all about how my mother sent me to a reform school run by Mormons in Utah. How they gave us demerits. And locked us in solitary confinement.
He seriously could not stop asking question after question and, I wanted the job. So I answered. I thought we’d gone as far off track as we possibly could, but then he hit me with the one question I never thought anyone would ever ask me in an interview ever.
“So, what’s your relationship like with your mom today? Do you guys get along?”
The good news? I got the job. Probably because I could have sued them for not hiring me at that point, but whatever.
Here’s the thing though -- if you think asking a potential employee about her relationship with her mother is inappropriate, imagine if that guy had asked me questions like “Do you have a boyfriend?” or “Are you married?” or “DO YOU LIKE BOYS?”
What? No one would ever do that because it’s clearly so out of line and probably completely illegal? Yeah. You’d think.
Except that’s EXACTLY what National Football League executives asked rookie prospects during the NFL combine, a week-long gathering where teams evaluate players’ talent and potential.
Clearly, unless you’re a bigot or believe that people should be evaluated for jobs based on their sexuality and/or other circumstances that are irrelevant and out of their control, we all agree on how ridiculous and inappropriate this is. (And I know none of you are either of those things because, well, you wouldn’t be HERE if you were.)
So I’m not going to waste our time with my outrage over those questions, even though, trust you me, there is outrage. Lots and lots of outrage.
Rather, I want to lament that the NFL has missed yet another opportunity to make enormous strides in their position on gay rights. I dunno. I’m sitting here typing this and I’m just sad. I live in San Francisco. I believe in equal rights for everyone. I know the most amazing gay people and couples. I truly don’t understand how someone could NOT believe that my gay friends deserve everything straight people do. The same jobs, rights, freedoms, love, and support.
I’m not trying to come off as naïve; rather, I suppose I’m somehow still agog that all this bigotry and narrow-mindedness and prejudice is happening. Of course, I come from a city that has certainly done a lot for gay rights (but has also failed in many areas), but even that doesn’t give me much solace anymore. No matter how far we’ve come, we simply haven’t come far enough. And that’s unacceptable to me.
Right before the Super Bowl, San Francisco 49ers’ cornerback Chris Culliver made some really stupid anti-gay comments. “I don’t do the gays, man,” he told comedian Artie Lange. He went on to say that gay players shouldn’t “be in the locker room” and that they should keep their sexual preference a secret. “Come out ten years after [they retire],” he cruelly suggested.
As soon as I saw those comments I was heartbroken. Selfishly, because it was a distraction to the team, but also because WHAT THE HELL? Who says that? Who thinks that? Who doesn’t know that even if he DOES think that, he should keep that kind of bigoted B.S. to himself?
But mostly, just, ugh. We have so far to go. And it was a huge and painful reminder of that.
Fact: the day before Culliver came out with those horrific comments, a former Niner was outed after a domestic dispute with his boyfriend. Dude probably didn’t want to be outed because he beat up his lover, but that’s what happens when you punch the guy you’re sleeping with in a Chinese food restaurant.
The point though? There are gay guys in every single locker room. On every single NFL team. All 32 of them. Probably more than one. Or even two. And the NFL has an opportunity to do something about it. Right now. Today.
Create a zero-tolerance policy for homophobia of any type. If Frank Gore is going to get fined $10.5K for wearing his socks down during a playoff game, then I think the NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell can institute even bigger fines for players who participate in any type of sexual discrimination. This is the NFL’s chance to take a stand. A stand for gay rights. A stand that will let players and coaches and office personnel know that all that matters is how a player performs on the field. How he treats his teammates. How he demonstrates sportsmanship and dedication to the game.
What a player does in his bedroom? That’s no one’s business. But the thing is? If an NFL player wants to feel like he can be open about his sexuality because it’s a part of who he is and he spends more time with his teammates than anyone else on earth. Then, yeah. I’m all for that.
No one should have to hide. Especially not from the guys he trusts with his safety every time he steps out onto a field to play a game. Especially not from his teammates.
And these guys? They're more than just teammates. They’re family. And family needs to support -- even celebrate -- each other’s differences. If the NFL takes a stand, says they won’t tolerate homophobia, and actually hold players accountable for their intolerance and bigotry, just imagine what an impact that would have.
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