by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
On March 14, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to take strong action to ensure the league and all of its franchises do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation against players and recruits.
In a letter to the commissioner, Schneiderman called on the league to issue a formal written policy making clear that any form of discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation by teams or employees against potential recruits or players constitutes a violation of state, local, and in some cases contractual law, and will not be tolerated.
OUT OF BOUNDS
Under New York state's employment discrimination laws, companies that are based in or do business in the state are not permitted to ask employees or job candidates questions about their sexual orientation. In addition, at least two dozen of the 32 NFL teams are headquartered in jurisdictions with similar laws.
'From the Scouting Combine to the playing fields, everyone deserves equal protection under the law and the right to a fair workplace,' said Schneiderman. 'In New York state, we have no tolerance for discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, or perceived sexual orientation. Employment discrimination is ethically wrong and illegal no matter who the employer is. I hope we can work together with the National Football League to send a powerful message that employment discrimination will not be tolerated in any form.'
Last month, media reports indicated that at least three prospective NFL players - Nick Kasa, Denard Robinson, and Le'veon Bell - were asked questions related to their sexual orientation at the national recruitment Scouting Combine held in late February in Indianapolis. According to Kasa, teams asked prospects if they have a girlfriend, are married, or like girls.
Under the New York State Human Rights Law, it is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire or employ an individual because of sexual orientation. The law further bars any employer from 'mak[ing] any inquiry in connection with prospective employment, which expresses directly or indirectly, any limitation, specification, or discrimination as to & sexual orientation & or any intent to make any such limitation, specification, or discrimination.' Under state law, the attorney general's office has authority to investigate allegations of employment discrimination by companies in the state of New York.
RECRUITS NOT PROTECTED
In addition, the collective bargaining agreement the NFL signed in 2011 includes a commitment that '[t]here will be no discrimination in any form against any player by the Management Council, any Club, or by the NFLPA [NFL Players Association] because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.'
This provision does not, however, appear to provide any protection to prospective players during the recruitment process.
In his letter to Commissioner Goodell, Schneiderman urged the NFL to demonstrate a strong commitment to creating a work environment free of discrimination by issuing a written, league-wide policy that, once finalized, would be appropriately distributed and disseminated. He offered the support of his office's Civil Rights Bureau to assist in development of this policy.
'Equal protection under the law is an essential issue for employers, employees, and prospective job applicants,' wrote Schneiderman. 'For that reason, I ask that the League clarify its position by issuing a public statement that any form of discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation by League teams or their employees or agents against potential recruits or players constitutes a violation of state, local, and, in some cases, contractual law, and will not be tolerated.
'I also urge the League to memorialize this commitment in a written policy that, once finalized, is appropriately distributed and disseminated throughout the League. Our office stands prepared to offer guidance and support in the development of this policy,' he said.
'We will be seeking a meeting with the League staff supervising your investigation of the incidents reported by prospective players,' concluded Schneiderman.
A copy of Attorney General Schneiderman's letter to Commissioner Goodell can be found here: www.ag.ny.gov/pdfs/NFL_Final.pdf.
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