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The NFL's homoerotic rite

combineblof1.jpgThe next four days, if you want to look at hot, young, athletic men in skimpy clothes grunting and straining, put down the latest Falcon video and set your DVR to the NFL Network.

The channel, owned by the league, has wall-to-wall coverage of the annual flesh fest known as the NFL Combine, a place where players who hope to be selected in the April draft show what they’ve got for the assembled coaches, scouts and personnel men. And I mean show all almost all they got. The lift weights, run sprints and strip down to their underwear to be weighed and have their body fat percentage measured. As Michael Silver of Yahoo Sports put it in an excellent column:

Walk the halls of the Indianapolis Convention Center adjacent to the [RCA] Dome, and you’ll hear scouts and coaches throwing out compliments like, “That guy’s (expletive) pretty, now.” You’ll see write-ups lauding a prospect’s “big, bubble ass” or “great explosion in his hips.” …

“This is absolutely normal to me, but a lot of people on the outside think we’re crazy,” 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan says. “I’ll mention someone’s abs or ass or hips or thighs, and they’ll say, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ But hey, I’m in Northern California, so I guess it’s OK.” …

“They say I’ve got a big butt, which is good for an offensive lineman,” said ex-Texas-El Paso tackle Oniel Cousins. “I don’t care if they want to (talk about my butt), as long as they don’t touch me in that way.” ...

Imagine construction workers stripping down and flexing (and, for irony’s sake, getting whistled at by attractive female passersby) for the foreman before the plum jobs are assigned. Picture lumberjacks removing their jeans and flannel shirts and showing the logging-company execs that they’re built like Paul Bunyan.

Silver describes the whole spectacle as kind of creepy, with apparent straight, older men ogling young male flesh like other guys do to the waitresses at Hooters. I loved this description from agent Gary Wichard about one of his clients two years ago, Brodrick Bunkley, later drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles:

“They talk about ‘Winning the Beauty Contest’ – that was Brodrick Bunkley,” Wichard says. “When he weighed in, there were murmurs throughout the room. His legs were exploding out of his shorts, and it looked like his skin was swathed in Saran Wrap. You had a bunch of grown men who acted like they were at a strip joint outside of town. I thought they were going to offer him money for a lap dance.”

The best part is that it’s all shown on the NFL Network. There was a clip from last year (removed, alas, from YouTube) that showed Brady Quinn being weighed and doing bench presses, all the while that analysts (which included former players) rhapsodized about his physique in great detail. I thought I had stumbled across a video version of Manhunt. Don’t worry if you don’t have NFL Network. will have all the details, including photos and videos.

Update: Via Alex Marvez of Fox Sports, we learn that the players will no longer be shown shirtless:

Player weigh-ins will no longer air as part of the NFL Network's Combine coverage, has learned.

"There was concern from current NFL players that the participants would be more comfortable if they were not paraded around without their shirts on," combine director Jeff Foster said Saturday. "It was an entirely appropriate suggestion. The weigh-ins should never have been televised."

So, the grumpy old men who run the NFL will still get to see the flesh, but their viewers won't? What a bummer! This new information prompted Pro Football Talk to post the less-than-flattering shirtless shot of Tom Brady from the 2000 combine. Brady is one guy who has gotten hotter with age. -Jim Buzinski