The Atlanta Falcons quizzed a top NFL prospect – and likely dozens of others – about their sexual orientation during the NFL Combine, asking the players if they like men and warning them that Atlanta is full of gay men.
Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple exposed the homophobic antics from the Falcons during an interview Friday with Comcast SportsNet's "Breakfast On Broad."
The topic of strange combine questions came up. And he certainly had an answer.
"I've been asked a lot of weird questions. I don't know if I could say on TV," Apple said.
"The Falcons coach, one of the coaches, was like, 'So do you like men?' It was like the first thing he asked me. It was weird. I was just like, 'no.' He was like, 'if you're going to come to Atlanta, sometimes that's how it is around here, you're going to have to get used to it.' I guess he was joking but they just ask most of these questions to see how you're going to react."
The NFL said it would investigate the incident and Falcons head coach Dan Quinn quickly apologized. Via Bleacher Report:
I am really disappointed in the question that was asked by one of our coaches. I have spoken to the coach that interviewed Eli Apple and explained to him how inappropriate and unprofessional this was. I have reiterated this to the entire coaching staff and I want to apologize to Eli for this even coming up. This is not what the Atlanta Falcons are about and it is not how we are going to conduct ourselves.
The Falcons aren't strangers to homophobic antics. It's the same team, after all, that employed Roddy White for 11 years despite his anti-gay preachings. He was cut last week, but only after his on-the-field performance didn't match his fat paycheck.
And in 2014, a Falcons coach dished a homophobic slur during an episode of HBO's "Hard Knocks."
Not that the team hasn't tried to mend its ways. The NFL kicked off its "Respect in the Workplace" initiative with the Falcons in 2014. The effort aimed to address the league's uber-macho culture and included LGBT respect as a point of emphasis.
And the team was openly interested in Michael Sam – the college player who came out – as he prepared for the NFL draft that same year. Owner Arthur Blank even said it was time to make gay athletes "part of our culture."
This year, the Falcons signed onto Georgia Prospers, a coalition of 450 businesses that promotes workplace quality and opposes anti-gay "religious freedom" legislation under consideration by Georgia lawmakers.
But the LGBT equality efforts aren't filtering down too far past the team's front offices. The incident last week with Apple likely wasn't the only case of a Falcons coach posing homophobic questions to NFL recruits, according to the AJC.
The Falcons use of gender-based questions at the NFL scouting combine may have been more extensive than just one to Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple, according to a person familiar with the NFL combine interviewing process and questions asked.
“A few players told me the Falcons were asking gender questions,” the person said. “After (Michael) Sam and the Jonathan Martin situation, teams want to be careful.”
Each team attempts to fill 60 interviews at the combine. It’s unlikely that Apple was 1 of 60 asked a gender-based (sexually-orientation) question.
The NFL and the Falcons refused to address the allegations that the homophobic questions were more widespread than first reported.
“We do not have anything to say beyond what we said yesterday,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy wrote in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Saturday.
UPDATE | On Monday, the Falcons identified the coach who questioned Apple as Marquand Manuel and said the team has taken further steps to address the incident.
Dan Quinn and Marquand Manuel have issued statements regarding incident at Combine. pic.twitter.com/ThNYqkTg1h— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) March 7, 2016