Derrius Guice is one of the top running back prospects in the 2018 NFL draft class. He did well at the combine in the physical drills, running a 4.49 40-yard dash, the fifth best among running backs. Off the field however, he had a different experience than some of the other players to say the least.
Teams meet with draft prospects at the combine, interviewing them and trying to get a feel for their ability to fit within their organization. It’s comparable to a job interview, receiving questions about why they want to play for a specific team, what can they bring to the table, etc. Teams have 15 minutes to get whatever information they deem important to their organization, and how the player answers a certain question absolutely has an impact on their draft grade. According to scouts, the focus is on the content of the answer and not necessarily the answers themselves.
For Derrius Guice, one of his team meetings was significantly abnormal. In a statement on SiriusXFM NFL Radio, Guice recalled, “It was pretty crazy. Some people are really trying to get in your head and test your reaction. I go in one room, and a team will ask me do I like men, just to see my reaction. I go in another room, they’ll try to bring up one of my family members or something and tell me, ‘Hey, I heard your mom sells herself. How do you feel about that?’”
It’s well known that without mental strength and preparation, regardless of talent and skill, players cannot succeed at a professional level. Johnny Manziel was an extremely skilled quarterback with a wild and distracting persona that was detrimental to himself as a player and to his team as well. People speculate that Baker Mayfield is just as mentally weak as Manziel was and have already written him off their draft boards. Guice actually acknowledges this fact directly in his interview with NFL Radio. These coaches and scouts want to know how he thinks, how he reacts to certain questions, and how he handles pressure.
Given the sheer controversial potential of a question like “Do you like men”, one would expect the coaches and scouts to have the foresight to ask difficult questions without risking a lawsuit or their careers. In 2015, an assistant coach of the Atlanta Falcons asked cornerback Eli Apple the same question and received serious backlash from the NFL and Falcons organization … or so we think. The assistant coach in question was never named, but Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said he spoke with the person 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.” Just like that – swept under the rug. Were the Falcons fined? Was the coach fired? Nope – the NFL just issued a statement condemning this line of questioning and behavior.
In a league where a player can be suspended four games for allegedly deflating footballs (excuse the New England sports fan bias), how is it that a coach who is virtually violating federal workplace discrimination laws only receives a “stern talking.” The NFL announced a statement where they emphasized, “The league annually reminds clubs of these workplace policies that prohibit personnel from seeking information concerning a player’s sexual orientation.”
What makes the subject even worse is that although the NFL reportedly investigated the coach who spoke with Eli Apple and are currently investing the person who interviewed Derrius Guice, this type of line of questioning is apparently quite common in the NFL. Objectively, it makes sense too – how far can you push a player before they break mentally by using shocking questions to bait a reaction out of him. In 2010, the Dolphins GM asked then prospect Dez Bryant if it was true that his mother was a prostitute. In 2013, Nick Kasa was asked if he likes girls.
I couldn’t tell you whether or not questioning the players sexual orientation stems from this line of shock questioning or from a genuine interest in a player sexual orientation in order to cross them off the team’s list. Either way, gay athletes are unbelievably rare in professional sports because of instances like this, where they and their character are used to bait other players in a negative way. In the history of the NFL, former prospect Michael Sam was the only player to come out before or during his time in the NFL. He never played in a professional game, being waived from the practice squads of both the St. Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys in 2014. Additionally, only six NFL players have come out as gay after retiring. Some feel like it’s unnecessarily politicizing an outside aspect of the game, an action that has led to the blackballing of players from the league.
While the coaches are asking these questions with the alleged desire to bait reactionary responses from the prospects, how they answer such a question has the potential to jeopardize their entire career when moments before they were a first round prospect. It’s difficult to separate the macho on-field atmosphere of a sport like football from the off-field atmosphere as well, so professional sports silently adapted a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, although apparently as society becomes more progressive, this policy as morphed into “don’t tell” only. Former coach Vince Lombardi was praised during his time in the NFL for his ability to effectively separate on the field and off the field emotions and atmospheres. He notoriously screamed and roughened up players at practices and during games, yet he demanded absolute respect for any gay players and staff. Other coaches clearly have not learned from his coaching style.
Derrius Guice took the situation much better than others might have, and based on how he described the experience, he was less offended than he was just shocked. He understood what the coaches wanted to do, even if the manner in which they were doing it was wrong. He’s proven his maturity to teams in those conferences and by speaking up about his experience as well.