NFL Will Strengthen Non-Discrimination Policies For Teams, But Fans Need To Be Targets, Too

The National Football League will improve its outreach and education efforts about its anti-discrimination policy, which expanded to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2011, according to an agreement it reached with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D). Schneiderman and the NFL have been in talks to improve enforcement and awareness of the policy since the end of the league’s pre-draft combine, when prospective draft picks (including Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o) were asked if they were gay.

Schneiderman announced the agreement, which requires the NFL to display notices of its policy in locker rooms and to conduct training for players and employees involved in hiring, Wednesday morning:

Following discussions with the Attorney General’s office, the NFL will undertake new actions to reinforce its policies against discrimination based on sexual orientation, including the development and dissemination of posters to be displayed in locker rooms throughout the league conveying the NFL’s anti-discrimination policies.

The NFL will also take steps to distribute the policy to all 32 teams in the league, conduct training across the league around the policy — including for rookies and individuals involved in hiring and recruitment of new players — and strengthen protocols concerning the reporting of complaints of discrimination or harassment by players.

This is, of course, a positive development, as a non-discrimination policy is rather useless if players, scouts, executives, and league hiring officials don’t know about it or what it means. But if the NFL wants to make itself a truly inclusive place for gay players, employees, and fans, it still needs to do more.

CBS Sports’ Mike Freeman reported last month that there is a gay NFL player who is considering coming out, and that his biggest concern is not how his teammates or coaches and executives will react. Instead, it’s how much abuse he will receive from fans. That’s a legitimate concern, one that is harder for teams and the NFL to control. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps the NFL can take to control it — both to the benefit of gay players and to gay fans.

The league could, for instance, post notices in stadiums (similar to those it will post in locker rooms) alerting fans that discriminatory behavior and language directed at players won’t be tolerated by teams and security officials, clarifying that such language counts as the kind of disruptive behavior that all stadiums tell ticketholders can get them ejected. It could also require teams to include notices in season ticket packages that let fans know that anyone who displays discriminatory behavior could have their tickets revoked or suspended. It won’t be possible for security to notice every fan who calls a player a “faggot,” but there are simple steps the league can take to promote an atmosphere of inclusion. That atmosphere by default would help fans both police themselves and the other fans around them.

This isn’t just important for making it easier for the first NFL player to come out of the closet. It’s also important because there are millions of gay NFL fans in the United States, and they deserve to watch football in the same type of inclusive environment the NFL is promoting among its players.