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MORRISSEY: NFL should judge Manti Te’o’s football skills, not his sexuality

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o runs drill during NFL football scouting combine Indianapolis Monday Feb. 25 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

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Updated: March 27, 2013 6:16AM



I guess everything’s OK now on the Manti Te’o front. The dead girlfriend who couldn’t have died because she never existed is a distant memory, right?

The Notre Dame linebacker met the media Saturday at the NFL Combine, didn’t exhibit any signs of aberrant behavior and actually charmed quite a few of those gathered, enough so that the reviews were almost all good.

But there’s one pesky question that won’t go away: Why has his draft stock dropped since the news broke that he got hooked in a catfish ruse?

If the romance with the fictional Lennay Kekua was truly no big deal and far removed from his ability to play football, why is Te’o now predicted to go somewhere late in the first round when, before the bombshell hit, he was considered a top-10 pick?

Maybe it was his no-show performance in the BCS championship game against Alabama. Maybe NFL teams thought the Crimson Tide, with a roster of speedsters, exposed him as a stiff, heavy legged linebacker. Maybe it was his disappointing 4.82 time in the 40-yard dash on Monday.

Or maybe NFL executives, not exactly the most progressive people in the world, are completed weirded out by Te’o’s situation and don’t know what to make of it or how much they’ll have to deal with it going forward.

But there’s another issue out there that won’t go away, according to ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio. Whether Te’o is gay is “the elephant in the room’’ in the NFL, he said Monday on “The Dan Patrick Show.’’ Should Te’o’s sexuality be a non-issue? Of course. But the fact that there has not been one openly gay player in the NFL says it very much is an issue.

For NFL teams, the apparent concern isn’t just how players would respond to a gay teammate but the swirl of attention that would follow him everywhere he went. Really? Teams say they don’t like sideshows, but they sure haven’t had a problem drafting or signing players with criminal and personal problems over the years. Apparently, being gay is worse than beating up a girlfriend. Who knew?

You’ll know we’ve truly arrived when the NFL is regularly drafting gay players with felony convictions.

ABC’s Katie Couric already has asked Te’o if he’s gay, leading to just about the macho-est denial on record: “No, far from it. FAR from it.’’ But if you’re an NFL team, how do you ask Te’o that question? You don’t. You can’t.

So, short of hiring private detectives to follow him – and don’t be so sure some NFL teams haven’t – somebody is going to have to decide it doesn’t matter whether he’s gay or not. It will have to come down to whether he can play the game, as it should.

There surely are gay players in the NFL, but they have chosen to keep their sexuality to themselves. In a perfect world, it would be immaterial. It shouldn’t matter what you or I do with our personal lives. But it’s not a perfect world, and life is messy.

This is turning out to be just about as sloppy as you’d expect from a situation that involves a kid being tricked into having a relationship with a dying girl who doesn’t exist. It’s new territory, and if you’ve noticed the attention to detail and Soviet-bloc atmosphere of the NFL, you know coaches and general managers don’t like new territory.

It’s a story that’s not going to go away. If there was any doubt of that before, there isn’t anymore, not after Florio’s comments Monday. It’s something Te’o is going to have to deal with for years. It’s part of him. He’s going to hear about it from opponents on the field. He’s going to be asked about it off the field.

Te’o is not a great player, and I would love to believe that’s the reason he has dropped in the esteem of NFL teams. I would hope that Bears general manager Phil Emery uses the 20th pick overall on an offensive lineman, not a linebacker with baggage who played for a lightning-rod school. It’s early in Emery’s tenure, but he doesn’t seem to be someone who does things simply to make a splash. You’ve seen his suits.

Conversely, I hope the Bears don’t pass on Te’o because they think he’s gay. There are only two questions to answer: Does he have the potential to be a great player in the NFL, and, if he is gay, can he handle the scrutiny that will come with it?

Nothing else matters.



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