Though in some respects the NFL locker room is behind the times, pro football blazed plenty of trails when it comes to racial equality. When it comes to the acceptance of players who have unconventional religious beliefs, the NFL at times may not be quite as flexible.
Asked whether there’s a certain type of player Colts G.M. Ryan Grigson hopes to bring to the organization, interim coach Bruce Arians said this: “A high quality person who has passion for football and cares about faith, family and football.”
But why is it relevant to care about faith? Is there any legitimate connection between belief in a Higher Power and the ability to demonstrate the kind of speed and/or power that makes a guy a pro athlete?
I believe in God. But I don’t believe that belief in God should be a factor in employment decisions of any kind. (Except, of course, if a guy is applying to be a priest, minister, or rabbi.) This country was founded by folks who risked their lives in part for the freedom to practice their religious beliefs, including no religious beliefs at all. Folks who choose not to believe should never be disadvantaged.
Then there’s the fact that Article 49 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits discrimination because of “race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.” Though it would be very difficult if not impossible to prove that a player has been not signed or released by a team like the Colts based on his religious beliefs (or lack thereof), a public comment from the coach that the G.M. factors faith into his decision-making process is the kind of thing that could fuel a grievance, especially if the player has other evidence supporting possible discrimination.
So here’s some free legal advice for all coaches, General Managers, owners, and anyone else who has hiring and firing power within an NFL team: Don’t make religion part of your employment practices, and definitely don’t admit that it is.