Thursday, March 14, 2013

What Happens in Indianapolis...

A friend of mine is fond of witty quotes.

One of them goes, "once I thought I was wrong, but I was mistaken."

Well, it appears that in little over one week's time, I've been at least partially mistaken twice.  I haven't lied, or been flat-out wrong, or personally accused people of things they haven't done.  Instead, I'm having to clarify points I've advanced in previous essays with new information.  While these clarifications aren't exactly proof that what I've written earlier is fraudulent, they do serve to chastise my penchant for drawing conclusions based on premature evidence.

My first clarification came last Tuesday, when one of the women involved in the Menendez imbroglio claimed that the New Jersey senator did not pay her for sex, as had been earlier reported.  The fact that she was, however, willing to lie in a legal deposition, and works as an escort, doesn't exactly give her the most credibility.  But still, considering the lack of definite proof one way or the other, Menendez is entitled to the benefit of the doubt, at least until a court of law rules otherwise.

Today, it appears that my haste in ascribing a new era of inclusion regarding sexual orientation to the National Football League may have been based more on the league's official position, rather than the literal practices of its team franchisees.

News began trickling out in February that some teams, as they scouted new players, were getting pretty personal when inquiring about a candidate's sexual lives.  Nobody's identifying the teams whose recruiters supposedly asked these questions, and the NFL trotted out its standard "non-discrimination" policy as some sort of proof that they know America's increasingly progressive populace wouldn't abide blatant sexism in our country's manliest sport.

Accusations of improper questioning stemmed from the NFL's recruitment combine in Indianapolis this past February, and today, New York State's attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, pressed the issue by requesting that the NFL report to his office by next week the results of their internal inquiry into the aberrant questioning back in Indianapolis.  Although Indianapolis is in Indiana, the league's 32 teams play in 24 states - including New York - where inquiring about a prospective employee's sexual orientation is illegal.  Since the NFL itself is headquartered in New York, Schneiderman likely saw that as additional legitimacy for him to publicly press the league on this matter, as well as score some political points in one of the country's most liberal states.

Last Friday, when I blogged about the NFL's apparent disapproval of Tim Tebow's blunt evangelicalism, and their fear of him stoking anti-gay rhetoric among his fans (and, conversely, anti-NFL rhetoric among gay rights activists), I tried to indicate that this new non-sexist face of the NFL's really comes more from headquarters than the individual team offices across the country.  And indeed, judging by Schneiderman's concerns regarding what teams did privately during their league's event, he's not so much requesting clarification of the NFL's policy, but more a vetting of how the league's franchisees are respecting that policy.

So while the NFL may indeed harbor resentment against Tebow and the tenets of his faith, others within the organization may be more bigoted against gays than Tebow has been unfairly accused of being.

Frankly, I don't see what business a player's sexual orientation is of any professional football team's staffers, from its coaches to its players.  A person's sexuality should not be their defining characteristic, and in our sex-infused culture, insinuating that sexuality needs to be an important component of whether an athlete can thrive in their sport only perpetuates the problems we have with sexual immorality in our country.

Nevertheless, I understand it's the NFL's prerogative - and now, it's duty - to enforce certain policies and procedures across all of its teams, whether they want to abide by them or not.

It may just be a political stunt, since Schneiderman should know he won't be able to change the hearts and minds of football's franchisees and fans by making the league's suits extract more hollow promises in the spirit of open-mindedness.

But in terms of Tebow, and the rock and a hard place he's finding himself these days, whatever anti-gay sentiment there may be lingering in the front offices and locker rooms of the NFL - and of which the NFL has not so subtly accused him - likely won't make his life any easier.

And that fact should still make evangelicals reconsider their allegiance to one of their most favored sports.  Not because the NFL wants to defuse bigotry, which is a good idea.  But because there's a fine line between defusing bigotry and censorship.

And in America's current spiteful, rhetoric-filled dialog, which some right-wing evangelicals have helped to create, the NFL may have decided that there's more money to be made with censorship than speaking the truth in love.

If we'd been speaking the truth in love all along, we might not be facing this predicament.


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