It was 2007 and Akil Patterson was getting ready for the NFL Draft when he was interviewed by a scout at a spring workout who threw him a curveball.
”Are you gay? the scout for the unnamed NFL team asked Patterson, an offensive line prospect who played first at the University of Maryland and then for California University of Pennsylvania.
Stunned, Patterson said yes, to which the scout replied: “We’ve got a lot of guys in the league who are.”
Patterson later learned that he had been outed by an assistant coach from his college days who knew the scout. While Patterson lived a double life and tried to stay closeted in college, he was indiscreet enough that rumors spread about him being gay, which caused him great distress. For example, when he signed up to take a college course on LGBT studies, he was pressured to drop it by a coach who asked “why I was taking fag classes,” Patterson said.
Patterson never was drafted, something he attributes to his lack of preparation and motivation to play in the NFL, not because of his sexual orientation. Still, the question from the scout about being gay bothered him since he was still wrestling with coming out as a gay man. This struggle led him to “self-medicate,” Patterson said, with a lot of alcohol and pot and constantly getting into fights to prove his manhood.
This week, I recalled that anecdote from a 2010 story I wrote on Patterson when Derrius Guice, an NFL Draft hopeful, said that one team at the recent combine asked if he liked men. The NFL on Thursday declared such questions inappropriate and said it is investigating. An identical question asked of a draftee in 2016 resulted in no punishment for the Atlanta Falcons assistant coach or the team.
Patterson went on to become a successful Greco-Roman wrestler and has been an advocate for LGBT people in sports, meeting with the likes of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the formation in 2017 of an NFL Pride group for LGBT employees. He is now founder of Community Advocacy Consultants, a company that guides organizations through political landscape and public policy.
While he applauds the NFL for strides it has made in LGBT acceptance and awareness, it’s questions like the one asked of Guice that show Patterson more work needs to be done.
”The NFL as an organization has made big strides to address many social issues, but the teams are still run by many people who fail to understand that if we want to create a better culture they need to invest in knowing what workplace policies should exist,” Patterson told me.
”A Fortune 500 company generally does not ask this question in an interview. The NFL teams should do the same and understand that asking these questions is no different then asking any other player if they sleep on the right side or left side of the bed. It makes no sense at all and should not be a practice used to find out personal information when it comes to sex and sexual orientation.
”Over the last year I have had conversations with the NFL about looking into the policies that can protect front office employees from these type of questions” he added. “We can do more if the NFL takes time [to] work with people who understand policy and the political climate that exist in sports.”
We don’t know how many prospective NFL players in the past 11 years have been asked such a blunt and invasive question as Patterson was by the scout in 2007, but it was wrong to ask it then and remains wrong today.