When Kerry Rhodes failed to receive any offers for his services playing in 2013, many assumed it had something to do with off-season rumours about his sexuality. With Michael Sam preparing to enter the NFL as the first openly gay player, Rhodes has once again found himself, and the rumours which surrounded him in the spotlight once more.
In 2012, Kerry Rhodes was one of the best players in the NFL at his position. As part of the Arizona Cardinals top-ten defence, Rhodes was widely considered one of the top five safeties in the NFL. In 2013, just months after he was apparently outed by MediaTakeout, Rhodes was unemployed.
For many, the coincidence was simply to big to ignore. Soon, rumours began to swirl that Kerry Rhodes had been blacklisted by the NFL clubs.
For his part, Rhodes vehemently denied the rumours. He spent the year focussing on other projects, including setting up a media company, and trying to break out in Hollywood, acting in Good Cop, Bike Cop, but insisted that he still considered himself an NFL calibre player, and hoping he would get another chance.
But that rumours simply would not die, neither that he was gay, nor that he had been blackballed because of it. Indeed, the logic seemed sound—there were simply too many teams in need of help at safety for none of them to give him a call.
However, for Rhodes, he simply doesn’t see it.
“I don’t think I was blacklisted,” Rhodes told ESPN on the phone on Tuesday. “Especially with the NFL I don’t think they would do that … to me it was a product of me wanting to do other things and not finding the right opportunity.”
In reality, the truth is likely far more mundane. Like so many things in the NFL, it almost certainly came down to economics.
Rhodes viewed himself as one of the top players in the NFL, and would have expected to be compensated as such. For teams however, their general managers would have looked and seen a safety who was the wrong side of 30, had a reputation for not working particularly hard and being “Hollywood”. They would also have been forced to question if his success had more to do with his situation in Arizona, and if it would transition to their systems.
In fact, the Cardinals did offer Rhodes a deal. Like so many that GM Steve Keim tabled last offseason, it was a take it or leave it deal—Rhodes left it, and the Cardinals moved on without him.
There have been suggestions that Rhodes received other offers too, which he did not feel reflected his full value, which he also walked away from.
This, more than any gay rumours, would have set alarm bells ringing for any team serious about success. Worse, it would have only served to reinforce their existing concerns about his work ethic.
For his teammates, this particular rumour has no basis in reality. Kicker Jay Feely was a teammate of Rhodes in both Arizona and previously at the New York Jets, and found him to be an exemplary teammate on field and off.
“I always found him to be a really good teammate,” Feely said. “On the field, he’s as good as any safety in the NFL.” Like many, he was surprised Rhodes could not cut a deal, but never gave any indication that he believed Rhodes’ sexuality, or rumours surrounding it, played any part in this.
Rhodes decided that his outside interests, which include film and documentary production, workout videos targeted at tackling obesity among young people, as well as acting, would keep him busy enough not to need to settle for less than what he felt he was worth. A year without his NFL salary may force him to reassess this decision in 2014, but if he does, there is certain to be one or two teams willing to take a shot on him for a cut price, regardless of whether they believe he is gay or not.