Players at the NFL scouting combine say they were asked by teams about their sexual orientation. A hoax involving Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o may have something to do with that. (Michael Conroy/AP)

Players at the NFL scouting combine say they were asked by teams about their sexual orientation. A hoax involving Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o may have something to do with that. (Michael Conroy/AP)

It’s football season again, but when isn’t it? The NFL wrapped up its annual scouting combine this week in Indianapolis. This year, the story of which prospects had flourished or failed as they were put through their paces by NFL team scouts and brass was overshadowed by allegations of inappropriate and potentially illegal questioning.

Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth attended the combine, and compared it to a music festival – with Jets head coach Rex Ryan akin to Bruce Springsteen.

“When he would come on at the end of the combine day one or day two, everything stopped, everyone stopped wheat they were doing and went to hear the Rex Ryan press conference ’cause he would guarantee the Super Bowl, do a series of one-liners, and kind of a comedy routine. It was a highlight,” Tanier said. “This year was a little bit different, a little more of a humbled Rex Ryan… It was interesting to see the rise and fall of Rex Ryan, if not Ziggy Stardust.”

University of Colorado tight end Nick Kasa, Michigan’s Denard Robinson, and Le’veon Bell of Michigan State reported being asked questions that indirectly referenced their sexual orientation.

You have a changing culture over the course of 10, 15 years, that a bunch of individuals who are older men who are in a super macho environment and climate, to coin a phrase, have not yet gotten that memo.
– Mike Tanier, Sports on Earth

“These questions sound to me like they’re variations on questions that have been asked for 10 or 15 years by NFL executives to these incoming prospects,” Tanier said. “They’re questions designed to throw them off their game a little bit during the interview process, while at the same time, maybe get a little insight into who the player is. I remember they would ask questions of players like, ‘So, do you like tall women?’ With a qualifier in there of ‘tall.’ And I think what happened this year is, because of the Manti Te’o situation, we’ve now reached a level of awareness of what’s really being asked with those questions.”

The NFL says it’s investigating the claims. If a team representative asked about a player’s sexual orientation, that would be a violation of the league’s own rules – and the law.

“It’s against league policy, it’s against the collective bargaining agreement, it’s against the law, and it’s against what the NFL is trying to do in terms of being progressive on a variety of issues,” Tanier said. “What I think that they’re going to find that they’ve come up against is the same thing they came up against in the bounty case, where you have a changing culture over the course of 10, 15 years, that a bunch of individuals who are older men who are in a super macho environment and climate, to coin a phrase, have not yet gotten that memo.”

These questions most likely came up because of controversy surrounding Manti Te’o and his imaginary Internet girlfriend who turned out to be a man perpetrating a hoax. The Notre Dame linebacker had a mixed performance at the combine.

“Ironically, the thing that he aced was when he spoke to the media, a lot of us felt very comfortable with the idea that this was something we need to move on from,” Tanier said. “It’s a controversy that had a lot of juice to it when it first came out and was fully of these wacky questions. Not a lot of meat on the bone, in terms of it being something that speaks to his character very much, when you really study the NFL combine and realize there’s a lot of people with some serious things in their background, this is not one of them.”

Tanier said that on the field, Te’o didn’t distinguish himself. Most scouts expect him to be drafted late in the first round or in the second round. Tanier said Te’o is likely “to become a starter, but not a star” in the NFL.

Incidentally, Manit Te’o told reporters that no one asked him questions related to his sexual preference at the combine.