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Katie Couric asks Manti Te’o if he’s gay, his answer speaks volumes

Manti Te'o Workout at IMG Academy

BRADENTON, FL - JANUARY 23: Linebacker Manti Te’o of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish works out at IMG Academy on January 23, 2013 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

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The long-awaited Katie Couric-Manti Te’o interview aired this afternoon, and for people who have followed the story of the bizarre hoax that led to Te’o claiming to have a girlfriend who didn’t exist, not a lot of new ground was broken: Te’o is sticking to his story that he was a victim, not a perpetrator, of the hoax, while acknowledging that he did lie to his family about having met his nonexistent girlfriend in person, and that he lied to the media even after learning that she didn’t exist.

But one brief exchange within the interview has people talking: Couric asked Te’o, “Are you gay?”

Te’o, who up to that point had calmly answered questions suggesting that he’s naive, stupid and a liar, grew emphatic as he insisted that he is heterosexual.

“No, far from it. Far from it,” Te’o said.

The emphasis Te’o placed on being “far from” gay was striking. At other times in the interview, Couric grilled Te’o about being “the most naive person on the planet” involved in a “web of lies,” and Te’o didn’t flinch. But when Couric asked Te’o if he’s gay, Te’o took umbrage. Te’o seemed to be saying, “Katie, you can call me naive, call me stupid, call me a liar. But don’t dare call me gay.”

And that may say a lot about how a gay player would be treated in the National Football League. Although there have been encouraging stories recently about more accepting attitudes in NFL locker rooms, we may still be a long way off from a day when a football player could answer the question, “Are you gay?” with a simple, “Yes” and not fear being shunned by teammates, downgraded by coaches and heckled by fans.

The bad news is that Te’o seems to think that if you’re an aspiring professional football player, you’re better off being labeled naive and stupid than gay. The awful news is that he might be right.