- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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Veteran safety Kerry Rhodes hopes to play in the NFL if he can find the right opportunity, and doesn't believe rumors about his sexuality -- which he has always maintained were not true -- derailed his opportunity to play in the NFL last season.
"I don't think I was blacklisted," Rhodes said during a phone interview 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."
As the NFL is about to welcome the first openly gay player in Michael Sam, who will enter the NFL draft this season, many assume Rhodes had not been offered a job after a former associate told a number of websites that Rhodes was gay. Some speculated that Rhodes wouldn't feel comfortable coming out, but Rhodes said that has never been the case.
"I emphatically said no once and that's all I need to say and people who know me know that's definitely not the case," Rhodes said. "To me I'm definitely not and I can't control what people think, so I move on."
The Arizona Cardinals offered Rhodes a contract at the end of the 2012 season, when Rhodes was named the No. 4 safety in the league by Pro Football Focus. He turned that offer down, and poured his energy into a production company, acting in a comedy series "Good Cop, Bike Cop" and rolling out some children's fitness initiatives with his foundation.
Rhodes thinks money, more than rumors, might have hampered his signing with a team, since he wasn't going to take a deal that he wasn't comfortable with.
"Every option for me is open, I haven't retired," said Rhodes, who was drafted by the New York Jets in 2005. "It's about me staying ready to go, I would probably have to take a deal right now, but if an opportunity that's good for them and also good for me I would entertain it and want to come back and play. I still love football and it's still a part of me. That's not closed. But I'm not going to go into a situation where it's not beneficial to myself. Because with the things I'm doing now I feel pretty comfortable and confident. It's just what works best. But definitely haven't closed that door yet."
Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, who played with Rhodes in New York and Arizona, said Rhodes got tarnished with the tag that he didn't play hard, which Feely said is not the case. In his book, Jets coach Rex Ryan called Rhodes "Hollywood," which alluded to his interest in acting and friendships with celebrities.
"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."
Feely was surprised that Rhodes didn't get picked up by another team.
Rhodes has always been someone with interests outside of football. Right now that includes his production company, which is working on a documentary about former NBA player Antoine Walker, and a program called Now Let's Get Fit to combat obesity. For Rhodes, having those outside interests has been important in a sport that rewards uniformity.
"Sometimes you have to fit it, instead of people being themselves you have to fit in," Rhodes said. "I try to tell all the young guys, come in and be yourself you want to be accepted you want to come in, but you also don't want to lose your identity... It's a tough balance but it's something you have to maintain."
In part, it's why he wanted to take on a comedy role, to test himself during the first season away from the game since he was a kid.
"I'm never going to live life scared," Rhodes said.
Rhodes said watching games last season and seeing some teams struggle at the safety position gave him the feeling that he should keep his options open.
"I'm staying in shape, that hasn't changed," Rhodes said. "That's a big thing to me it's not just about me doing it for myself but also staying ready just in case I do get that call."
He's been able to give some thought to Sam's arrival in the NFL, a place where many thought a player would come out of the closet long before. Rhodes said he thinks Sam will have to prove himself, just like every rookie does, in order to be accepted.
"Not just him being Michael Sam the gay player, with his sexuality being at the forefront," Rhodes said. "But accepting him as him as a man and as a player."
Sam's teammates may face more scrutiny, but Rhodes doesn't expect that the locker room will need to change to accommodate the first openly gay player.
"I don't think the locker room will change," Rhodes said. "I think they will be more cognizant of it, it's such a big deal right now. I think they'll try to police it a little more but I don't think the locker room will change. Every locker room has a different dynamic."
As for Rhodes, he keeps an eye on the NFL and will remain ready to go, if the right opportunity is there. And if not, he is a person with other interests and abilities, and trusts that in whatever direction his life goes,it will be the right one.
"Knowing and staying true to myself, knowing my beliefs and the people around me knowing my beliefs, that's what's important to me," Rhodes said.
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