I first had my doubts a couple weeks ago.
It had been over a month since the NFL opened its investigation into claims NFL Draft prospect Derrius Guice was asked if he liked men. While some pointed to the league’s avoidance of a conclusion, I knew the NFL front office wanted to put the issue behind it. That the investigation was taking so long got me wondering.
“Some people are really trying to get in your head and test your reaction,” he told SiriusXM of some of the wacky questions NFL teams throw at prospective draftee. “I go in one room, and a team will ask me do I like men, just to see my reaction.”
What struck me about his statement — the one that got us all pointing fingers — was that, on my second read, it seemed more hypothetical than a recounting of an actual event. The message seemed to me, two weeks ago, to be that he was asked wacky questions, not that this one particular question was part of the interrogation.
What also struck me was that Guice paired that observation with another question.
“I go in another room,” he continued, “they’ll try to bring up one of my family members or something and tell me, ‘Hey, I heard your mom sells herself.’”
One thing stood out to me then as it does now: Both of these questions were actually high-profile questions from the last few years that were roundly criticized. In 2016 there was a hubbub over questions of Eli Apple by the Atlanta Falcons about whether he liked men. In 2010, the Miami Dolphins asked then-NFL-prospect Dez Bryant if his mother is a prostitute.
That both of the suggestions by Guice were from highly criticized episodes from the past raised my antennae.
Now that the NFL has concluded its investigation, in which it says it interviewed the player, his agent and at least a couple dozen teams, there are other takeaways...
The easiest “out” for the NFL was to name a team
If the NFL front office wanted to put this behind everyone, the easiest way to do that was to find a team to blame, pin it on them, do some sensitivity training and move on.
What was the toughest route for the league to take? The one it’s taken. Say it’s talked to a bunch of teams and the player and there is no evidence that this question was actually asked. Cue doubt from the media, fans, the LGBTQ community and everyone in between.
The path the league has taken was the path of most resistance, and it’s hard to believe the NFL front office would take that route when given the chance for an out.
The easiest “out” for Guice was to name a team
Some are speculating that Guice himself is now trying to cover this up. Again, that makes no sense. The easiest way to shift attention on this from him would be to name the team that asked the question. The headlines would be about that team, not the player.
Everyone remembers that this Combine question in 2016 came from the Atlanta Falcons because the team was name. Virtually no one remembers that it was Eli Apple who spilled the beans.
If Guice were asked this question by a team, he’d be inclined to name the team. That he hasn’t named the team tells me he didn’t mean what he said a couple months ago.
The league front office is taking this seriously
Remember, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has a gay brother. I keep going back to that in my head. Various other NFL team owners have connections to the LGBTQ community. There is simply not a propensity to ignore these issues. We can certainly debate how effectively the league has addressed incidents in the past, but to just sweep it under the rug? On a public stage? I just don’t see it.
In this case, the league front office is handing this as though it happened. Wade Davis told Outsports that the league has re-committed itself to the conversations he has had at various levels of the NFL, and next year it will include him speaking to various NFL scouts about the tribulations of questions that attempt to identify gay players or embarrass them. Why scouts? Some believe that if these questions were asked, it likely came from a scout and not a coach.
The NFL front office does not want these questions asked, and the people there are treating the situation as though it happened.
“We used this opportunity to reaffirm our workplace standards and emphasize the importance of fully complying with all requirements of federal and state law,” said league spokesperson Brian McCarthy in a statement on Wednesday. “The NFL and each of its member clubs remain fully committed to fair and non-discriminatory employment practices.”
Seeking the truth
To be clear, I was one of the people firmly entrenched in criticizing the NFL for failing to properly address the “are you gay” question from the 2016 NFL Combine, and the fact it looked like it had resurfaced two years later.
Yet in this particular case, having read sources multiple times, talked to various people with relationships in and around the NFL, and having talked to a source in the NFL front office, it is my conclusion that the NFL is telling the truth here.
In addition to that, while I haven’t spoken to Guice or his agent, I find it hard to believe he is now lying to cover up his own treatment by an NFL team. Is it possible? I suppose. I just don’t buy that.
Instead, it’s more likely Guice talked off the cuff, didn’t realize the headlines it would make, and has had to pay a public-relations price. Top NFL prospects do more media hits in four months than most people experience in a lifetime. I’ve misspoken and said things in-artfully in the media I later wish I’d never said.
So I empathize with Guice. Whether he was asked the question or not, he’s going to have to live with it for a long time.