ESPN's Will Cain is here to defend the NFL's 'inappropriate' combine questions

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Ben Rohrbach
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LSU running back Derrius Guice runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. (AP)
LSU running back Derrius Guice runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. (AP)

You will be shocked to learn that somebody from ESPN’s “First Take” is defending the indefensible.

Will Cain, a talking head on ESPN’s television and radio mediums, isn’t here to tell you NFL coaches asking prospects at the combine if they like men or their mothers prostitute themselves are good questions, he’s just here to tell you that you’re dumb if you think they’re bad questions. Or something.

For the uninitiated, former LSU running back Derrius Guice recently said at least one team asked him at the combine, “Do you like men?” and, “I heard your mom sells herself. How do you feel about that?”

Here’s how Will Cain feels about it:

This is ESPN promoting a radio show featuring a host who buys into the argument that football coaches asking men if they’re gay or their mothers are prostitutes is a useful way to psychoanalyze a future employee. We’re the dumb ones for not understanding that. And then there’s this nonsense:

“Let me ask you a question,” said Cain, getting real comfortable in his chair. “Is Ray Rice, when he was out of football right after his incident, was Ray Rice out of football because of his running, catching, blocking? Was he out of football because of his football abilities? Is Matt Lauer out of television because of his broadcasting abilities? Or are there other things that cause trouble for these men?

“See, here’s the thing: These questions, whether or not your mother’s a prostitute, whether or not you want to be a fruit or an apple or a banana — those are all fruits — they’re designed to get reactions. They’re designed to see what someone’s psychology is. The NFL is a high-pressure environment: media circus, trash talk, competition, locker room talk. How will a guy respond to all of that?”

First of all, thanks for clarifying that apples and bananas are fruits, Will Cain. I appreciate that. As for that part where you suggested the Baltimore Ravens or the “Today” show could have respectively determined that Rice was a domestic abuser or Lauer was an alleged sexual harasser by asking in a job interview if they’re gay or their mothers are prostitutes, I’m not quite following the logic there.

I’m going to assume your current employer didn’t determine you were, as Deadspin condemned you, “an idiot,” or, as Breitbart lauded you, “ESPN’s lone conservative voice,” by asking these questions.

Rational people will agree there’s no place for these questions. Like the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which deems it illegal to ask prospective employees about their sexual orientation. Or the NFL, which called them “completely inappropriate and wholly contrary to league workplace policies.” (Although, we can argue whether the league has effectively discouraged them, given similar documented incidents in 2010, 2013 and 2016.) Or the NFLPA, whose executive director went so far as to say teams should be banned from the combine for asking controversial questions.

Or Will Cain, who, when you wade through his sea of hot-take nothingness, conceded on Thursday, “Are the questions inappropriate? Yes. Are they ridiculous? Yes. … The question regarding sexuality may or may not be against the law. That one still has to be completely nailed down. The NFL knows and says it’s against their CBA and against their policy, so that one shouldn’t be asked anyway.”

But please tell us more about how we’re the stupid ones because we don’t get that NFL teams are just asking players if they’re gay to determine “off-the-field issues” that “take them out of their game”:

I could go on and on about why this is such a ridiculous hill to die on, but he probably already knows it, and Cain’s fellow ESPN employee, Israel Gutierrez, can offer the best explanation better than I:

“This is pretty simple here when you look at it,” said Gutierrez. “This is a team that’s trying to justify this question by saying, ‘Hey, we want to see how they respond to things.’ However, when you lump it in with questions like, ‘Does your mother sell herself?’ then it obviously comes with a negative connotation that being gay or being called gay is a negative. So, should this person be fined? Sure.

“But more importantly this person needs to be placed in front of a camera and asked a question: Why do you think it’s a negative to be gay? Because it’s people like this who are keeping 12- and 15- and 17-year-old kids, mostly boys who are interested in sports, in the closet for longer. It’s people like this who are pressing the question or pressing the point of ‘gay is soft’ and ‘gay is not welcome’ and ‘gay is not strong-minded,’ and those are keeping people in the closet for longer.

“There are kids out there having to make this decision between choosing a career in sports and being their true selves. Imagine how difficult that decision is. Imagine how unfair it is for everybody. It kept me in the closet until I was 31 while I was pursuing my career in sports. It kept people like Ryan O’Callaghan, former NFL lineman, in the closet and thinking about suicide before he thought about coming out.

“So, think about those things when you’re asking these questions and you’re ‘just trying to make your football team better,’ because you’re making life worse for a whole heck of a lot of people, and it’s a whole heck of a lot of people who do not have anybody in your league to relate to, because they’re too afraid to come out, partially because of people like you.”

People like you, Will Cain. People like you who defend the indefensible just to get a reaction.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!