On gay players, league will have to change without litigation that forces it


This week’s flurry of reports regarding quiet curiosity and not-so-quiet interrogation of incoming NFL players on the issue of sexuality represents an obvious symptom of a deeper problem.

Football teams, which notoriously fear the unknown in any shape or form, at best want to know whether there’s a chance that their locker room will be the first one to host an openly gay player.  At worst, one or more football teams possibly don’t want any gay players in the building, openly or closeted.

Although sexual orientation is not yet a protected class under federal law, multiple states shield employees who are gay or suspected to be gay from co-worker hostility or tangible job action (e.g., getting fired, not getting hired, or being passed over for a promotion).

The applicable laws have slightly less meaning in this context, because NFL policy expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Regardless of the laws or rules that would be broken, for the issue to be teed up in a court of law or in a grievance proceeding under the labor deal or anywhere else, someone has to complain.  The pool of potential plaintiffs consists not of people walking off the street and filling out an application but only of a relatively small group of individuals who already have worked their way through the lower levels of a similar locker-room mentality.

By the time the remaining 330 players or so are being questioned at the Scouting Combine, they’re each the product of the football machine.  And even if they’re troubled by questions about sexuality, what are they going to do about it?

They just want to play football, and to finally get paid for it.  If they’re not among the 256 or so who will get drafted, they’ll want to be among the 2,800 or so who will have a chance to win roster spots or practice-squad assignments after offseason workouts, training camp, and the preseason.

Besides, even if a player believes he has been blackballed based on his actual or perceived sexuality, how will he prove that the decision to cut him was influenced by anything other than his actual or perceived football skills, or lack thereof?  Evidence like inappropriate questions will help, but a player who doesn’t get a job ultimately will have to persuade a jury that he was better at football than someone who did.

The various factors add up to the reality that litigation, which has forced positive change over the past five decades in so many other workplaces, will likely never happen in the NFL.  (If you don’t think litigation effects change, you haven’t noticed the link between the NFL’s effort to protect current players from concussions and the 4,000 or so former players who claim the NFL didn’t do enough to protect them.)

Thus, for change to occur, it will need to come without the expense, annoyance, and worry caused by lawsuits.  And that will require, as Jason Whitlock of FOXSports.com argued earlier this week, real leadership from Commissioner Roger Goodell.

When it comes to the mentality and antics of the locker room, not enough credit is given to the ability of players to change on their own and/or the ability of teams to change them.  The players should be held to a higher standard of conduct and discourse in the locker room, and the teams should be expected to enforce it.

The fact that no gay player in any of the NFL’s 32 workplaces has felt sufficiently comfortable to declare his sexuality means that change hasn’t happened, yet.

Change has happened in countless other workplaces.  Thanks in large part to litigation.  Litigation the NFL most likely will never face on this issue.

The NFL also will likely never face a backlash from its customers for not creating an environment in which closeted gays will feel sufficiently comfortable to come out.  If anything (and based on plenty of the comments posted and emails and tweets we’ve received this week), a team that welcomes an openly gay player could alienate a significant percentage of its fan base.

Thus, the challenge for the league will be to change without a financial incentive to do so.  To change not because it’s the expedient thing to do, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Goodell often explains that his staunch willingness to stand on principle comes from his father’s willingness to sacrifice his position as a U.S. Senator in opposing the Vietnam War.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Goodell, who has been silent to date on the subject, is willing to take a stand on this topic, too.

50 responses to “On gay players, league will have to change without litigation that forces it

  1. It is amazing how some people believe they are of the right opinion and then try to force their opinion on others. There is no problem with gay discrimination in the NFL. Only the potential is there but that isn’t enough to venture out on a crusade. Why create an actual issue in order to pretend to fix a potential issue? Leave it alone until it becomes an actual problem with a real person who has legitimately been wronged.

  2. Bigotry in any form is something that should be fought against by people of character whether it be leveled against people because of the color of their skin, their gender or whom they choose to love.

    Discriminating against players because of their love life is reprehensible and lessens the humanity of everyone who defends the practice.

    Hopefully the NFL and its teams will do the right thing here even if it has to be dragged into the 21st century kicking and screaming ala the Redskins during the racial integration that occurred in 1962.

  3. When are we going to get past all of this junk and just treat people like people? Stereotyping people who are not like ourselves–not just for race, sex or sexual orientation, but also for religion or political persuasion–is for the small-minded among us.

  4. People want to try to make the locker room into something like their office work place but it’s simply not the case.

    The locker room for the players is more than a building but something sacred to them and it’s more of a brotherhood that’s exclusive to the people inside of it.

    So you can’t force the players to like or accept a gay player if they don’t want to just like you can’t force your kid to like the kid of your best friend. You can force them together all it still means they won’t like it.

  5. The question is irrelevant. Your sexual orientation has nothing to do with your character, work ethic or your ability to play football. Tom Brady is a great qb and one of the best we have ever seen. The fact that he’s heterosexual has nothing to do with that.

  6. The funny thing is the media whose “championing” the cause for gay players is the biggest thing holding them back.

    The main reason teams don’t want any part of a gay player is not because they care if they are gay or not but the same reason they want nothing to do with Tebow in that they don’t want to deal with the huge media circus it would bring.

    If you want it to not be a big deal if a player is gay or not than don’t make it a big deal if a player is gay or not.

    I work at a grocery store with coworkers that are gay and nobody thinks anything of it. Why? Because there isn’t 24/7 media coverage of it, countless questions regarding it, and nobody is lauding what a historic day for members of the gay community that they are able to work at a grocery store

  7. Florio, I truly have to thank you for taking this issue up and not letting go. As a part of the NFL media, you actually have some influence and this topic is very personal for me.

    Keep fighting the fight. The NFL (and sports in general) is one of the last industries to crack on accepting everyone regardless of orientation. You’re one of the few people with a voice in sports who is willing to use it for important social issues. And at this point the issue isn’t really a matter of politics, but basic human rights.

  8. Like the finsfan guy said, the media creates issues to champion where none exist, only the potential for the issue exists… Between the black coach issue and the gay players issue, I can’t wait for next season… Because when there’s football going on the writers are too busy for politics…next PFT writers will be talking gun control, abortion, you name it

  9. Yeah the NFL is a sacred brotherhood of magic and masculinity that could or should never be exposed to gays. It’s so funny how hard these men hold on to their notion of what a man. News Flash: There are dozens of gay players in the NFL right now and always has been! Yet never have we heard of an issue of a gay player giving other players lingering looks in the shower or any of that other BS people like to spout. Do you think an out gay player would act any differently in the locker room then a closeted one? Yes there would be a media storm around the first openly gay player but sooner or later it’s going to happen. Are we just supposed to cover our eyes and ears and hummm and hope it goes away to another day? If a player is good at what he does and has the respect of his teammates the majority will respect him and deal with the temporary media storm which by the way will only last one season at most. So stop talking about what you think goes on in a locker room and take a look at your own self and why you just can’t stand the thought of equality for all. Because in the end why should you get it in the place of someone else?

  10. A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. Can we give this whole gay thing a rest? Seriously don’t care.

  11. I forget about this whole “gay football player” situation until articles like this keep popping up. When I hear someone is gay, I give it about a second of thought and then move on with my life.

  12. I will never understand the significance of a player’s sexual preferences in regards to his ability to play the game of football. Is it commonplace or respectable in the work-field for such personal questions to be asked of potential employees?

    Teams must be frightened of the backlash from fans and the subsequent media storm that a gay player may create…but that shouldn’t be reason enough to discriminate upon these individuals. What message do you think these questions send to the player who may be gay? To me, you’re clearly saying to the player: we have disdain for those with such sexual preferences, and you being gay will ultimately have a detrimental effect on your being hired.

    It’s 2013, people are a lot more tolerant of others that are different, and the NFL should follow suit.

  13. It says a lot that the pro-equality posts are so roundly down voted and the let people discriminate posts are so popular.

    Guess the NFL players’ bigoted attitude extends to its fans.

    Funny that they hate gays but so enjoy watching men in tight pants getting sweaty.

  14. I suppose that is true if we are talking about the guys ranked 200-256 on the list. But what is a sure fire #1 pick at a premium position comes out as gay? I think then we will see the true colors of the NFL teams in this regard.

    For anyone who thinks anti-gay discrimination is not a problem in the NFL, there are really only two things to look at to know that position is not correct.

    1. With all of the guys playing in the NFL now, statistics say 5-10% are probably gay. Why don’t they come out? Media circus and being a locker room pariah are the most likely reason.

    2. The fact that such a question can even be asked. Seriously, I would love to hear about a bank HR director asking job candidates if they are gay in an interview. I have to believe the candidate would be texting an attorney before the interview even finished. But in the NFL? Sure, no problem.

  15. “So you can’t force the players to like or accept a gay player if they don’t want to just like you can’t force your kid to like the kid of your best friend. You can force them together all it still means they won’t like it.”

    They don’t have to like it they just have to live with it.

  16. So what happens when a team drafts a player, and that player, after a few years of playing, then “comes out” during (or right before) contract talks…

    All of a sudden there’s a new unwanted wrinkle put into the mix, where the player and agent will now claim the only reason why he’s not getting paid full fair dollar (or being traded, or not getting a new contract, etc.) is because they’re gay.

    I’m not saying that this is something anyone (or even many) people would consider doing as a way to get more leverage, but the mere existence of the possibility by itself is worthy to consider as a hesitation for an NFL program to willingly enter into a potential PR nightmare years later from something they could, for lack of a better phrase, ‘profile’ for in advance.

    If you are willing to pursue a fully honest picture of the situation, this very thing has happened more than once in the private sector. It’s not so much with an already openly gay person, but rather the ‘game-changing’ effect of someone coming out mid-employment.

    Perhaps it’s easier to get onto an NFL team as an already openly gay person, rather than someone who an NFL team suspects might come out in the future.

  17. Well said? That comment makes zero sense. You can’t compare working at a supermarket to being a public figure. I’m sure there have been many gay men in the NFL over the years. Just not out in the open.

  18. Florio, what is with you and all these gay stories? I mean really, this is a great site for football news, but do you need to use it to push your agenda? Why aren’t you fighting for the rights of polygamists? Or those who prefer incest?

  19. From the Rooney Rule to the Looney Rule….I say leave it like the military, “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

  20. I don’t condone discrimination against gay people but then again I don’t spend anytime in a NFL locker room, this problem is not a problem the NFL needs to address its a problem that individuals need to correct.

    The NFL has no way to make people change their feelings or opinions. This is something gets fixed at home and how people are raised. There are laws about discrimination based on race and that hasn’t been successful due to the fact the battle on hearts and minds has not been won on the fundamental level yet, a law will not work that is already very evident.

  21. Excuse me, but “discrimination” based on behavior is a normal thing people do every day. I choose to be discriminating about the behavior of people i associate with on a daily basis. There is nothing bigoted or intolerant about doing so.

    And having sex with another dude is a behavior, not a characteristic. Skin color is a characteristic. The freckles I have are a characteristic. Manti Te’o pounding another dudes nether regions is not. It’s a behavior, and me and any of the guys in the locker room have the right not to like it without fear of being accused of bigotry because of it.

    It’s called freedom of association.

    There’s a difference between tolerance and acceptance. It’s not the NFL’s job to legislate that

  22. People saying “statistics say there are dozens of gay guys in the NFL “, are driving me nuts. To be in the NFL you more than likely played in high school. If you were gay in high school, chances are everyone knew and the football team was the main group snickering about it. Point is, birds of a feather, flock together.

    Also, if you stereotype yourself and make a big deal of it you only complicate your own life. Go to work, keep quiet, do your job, clock out and go home.

  23. I am simply amazed at the depth and intensity of Florio’s gay focus and agenda. He must be gay and using this forum to push his personal values and force them on everyone else who care less about the gay’s plans to infiltrate the NFL.

    Florio, give it a rest. Go are start your new own gaytalk.com site where you can luxuriate with your kinded buddies. Leave the rest of us alone and stop trying to force your agenda on the NFL. This game is much too big for your interests.

  24. The “military” never revoked DADT, just for the record. It was forced down their throats (pun intended) by the current occupant of the Whitehouse.

  25. It’s obvious that the people who don’t support my brother and I getting married are hiding an incest relationship themselves.

  26. Florio needs to take it down a notch. It will happen if and when it happens. The allpowerful media, in their infinite wisdom, will not determine when it happens.

  27. Imagine the s**t storm of faux outrage in the media the first time an openly gay player is cut for a slightly better straight replacement.

  28. “If anything (and based on plenty of the comments posted and emails and tweets we’ve received this week), a team that welcomes an openly gay player could alienate a significant percentage of its fan base.”

    Florio, have you ever considered the possibility that fans might be reacting more harshly the more we read stories that push a particular social agenda? That maybe it’s not so much a reaction to the idea of a gay player but a reaction to the media’s push of what some call a gay “agenda?”

    I probably don’t share your views about gay issues. But I wouldn’t actually care if a player was gay. All I really care about is whether or not they can play. But as soon as the media begins using that person to push a set of beliefs that many Americans don’t share, THAT’s when people become uncomfortable with the idea. People don’t care as much about a player being gay but about the person being used by the media as a proxy in a conflict over social values.

    I think your advocacy of this issue may be accomplishing the opposite of what you intended it to. One reason why football attracts such a wide swath of Americans is because we want to have something we can focus on in order to get AWAY from politics.

  29. Hey, Osiris33, newsflash, the President is the Commander in Chief of the military. Judging by the tone of your comment, I can safely put “black President” along with “gay football player” under your “Things I hate as an angry white man” column. I’ll bet that list is quite long.

  30. I’ve been a huge follower of this site, but it is going downhill fast with activist reporting and condescension from the star writer.

  31. If there is a God who is just, loving and fair who do you think he supports: the gay person who wants to live in peace with a loving family or the angry zealot who wishes carnage and hate upon this who are different then him? I have a hard time believing an onipitant being doesn’t sit around thinking, “God I wish those gays would just go away, I mean how gross, two dudes? Ewww”

    Oh and one last thing. For the guy who isn’t very smart: gay is not = to pedophile. You as a “straight” man have the same predilection to abuse children as has been proven time and time and time again. Anyone who would hurt a child has their own category which has nothing to do with sexual orientation.

  32. NFL players and their locker room = grocery store and its employees. Riiiiiight

    Seriously though, there are a ton of practical reasons an NFL team wouldn’t want a gay player: from cohesion destruction in the locker room, to the media circus, to the vehement negative reaction of many hardcore fans, to the need to tippy-toe about everything said in an otherwise testosterone filled and foul mouthed environment so as not to provide ammunition for some future hostile-workplace lawsuit

  33. so basically Im being told that I have to like and respect this persons way of life even though I believe it is morally and ethically wrong. thanks but no thanks, I can play along side this person on Sundays but outside of that I prefer not to associate because I believe it is my right to feel comfortable with my surroundings and I am not comfortable in that environment. I really wish people would stop trying to ram their views and lifestyle down the throats of those who want no part of it.

  34. Seems like a lot of guys on here are afraid that someone is trying ram something down their throat. Perhaps you should talk to your therapist about that.

    Really, the exact opposite is true. Nobody cares what you think about gay people. But you are not allowed to infringe on a person’s rights because he is gay. And an employer (i.e., the NFL) is not allowed to discriminate based on a person being gay.

    Last, you know who made lots of sports fans uncomfortable? Jackie Robinson. Why should that darkie get to play with those good wholesome white boys. Can’t some of these commenters see how their comments are exact parallels to the crap that was said back then?

  35. Forget the Rooney Rule, we need the Richard Sherman rule and make it mandatory that a gay player must suit up and run his/her mouth at the opposing team.

  36. Golden perspective: you must have grown up in a town of 5 people. There are plenty of gay men in the NFL so just get over it and stop trying to use some antiquated/racist formula to try and prove otherwise.

  37. msclemons67 says:
    Mar 4, 2013 12:14 AM
    Imagine the s**t storm of faux outrage in the media the first time an openly gay player is cut for a slightly better straight replacement.
    Yeah right? I can see the discrimination lawsuits already “It’s because I’m gay” just play football, who cares if the player is gay or not. Leave it alone.

  38. orangandblack says:
    Mar 4, 2013 8:46 AM
    I thought Kwame Harris (ex San Fran OT) was openly gay? No?


    He is open now, but wasn’t when he played for the 49ers or the Raiders.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.