The latest CBA, agreed to and signed by both the owners and NFL Players Association, includes sexual orientation in its list of protections from discrimination. The policy change went largely unnoticed after the once-thought-to-be-lost NFL season got underway and the euphoria of pigskin drama returned to the public scope.
The 2011 revision offers subtle yet stark contrast to the previous CBA in 2006.
The old language from the 2006 CBA Article VII, Section 1, read, “No Discrimination: There will be no discrimination in any form against any player by the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA because of race, religion, national origin, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA."
The updated language—now moved to Article 49, Section 1—states, “No Discrimination: There will be no discrimination in any form against any player by the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.” (emphasis added)
George Atallah, NFLPA spokesman, said last week, “We certainly believe, speaking for the Players Association, that we have a tremendous social and cultural impact. We definitely understand the effect that we have on society and culture, and we feel we have a responsibility to have very high standards. With something like discrimination of any kind, we just want to make sure we are a symbol for good.”
It is unknown who pushed for the inclusion of the new language; however, the CBA that materialized should come as no surprise considering the two attorneys on each side of the negotiating table: Ted Olson and David Boies.
Olson and Boies, who clashed on opposite sides of a previous high-profile case in Bush v. Gore, have since joined hands in advocating for marriage equality, having overturned California’s ban on same-sex marriage.
In a twist of conventional ideology, the conservative Olson represented the players while Boies represented the NFL management in the negotiations.
While no openly gay players are currently active—three have come out post-retirement—the NFL has taken an important first-step towards the creation of a more accepting environment in football. By joining the ranks of the NHL and MLS, the NFL also helps remove the stigma of being a gay athlete in the hyper-masculine arena of sports in general.
Perhaps a high-profile player will soon make known his sexual orientation publicly now that the league has explicitly forbidden prejudice and bigotry in the context of employment. Or maybe a promising draft pick wants to be open about his identity.
Whether or not any such hypothetical scenarios do arise, performance, character and one’s love for the game should be the sole criteria for judging a player—not their personal life off the field.
With recognition of this standard and implementation of bylaws that promote it, the NFL simply has openly ensured a league of equal quality, unchanged yet better because the league now considers gay players, who have existed and still do play if only in secret, as vital assets to its stature and development.
Let’s hope the NBA can soon follow suit in both substance and timing.