WASHINGTON -- The NFL has removed a hurdle for professional football players who may be thinking of coming out as gay, banning discrimination based on "sexual orientation."
The new language was quietly put into the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, ratified by the players on Aug. 4, and first noticed by Pete Olsen at Wide Rights.
The contract reads: "Section 1. No Discrimination: There 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."
"Sexual orientation" was not in the 2006 collective bargaining agreement, which read there would be no discrimination based on "race, religion, national origin or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA."
"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," said George Atallah, spokesman for the NFLPA.
It's not entirely clear who pushed for the inclusion of the language this time, but it's noteworthy that two of the nation's highest-profile lawyers pushing for marriage equality were at the negotiating table.
Ted Olson represented the players in the discussions, and David Boies represented NFL management. The two ideological opposites worked together to overturn California's ban on marriage equality. Interestingly, one of the other attorneys who represented the NFL was Paul Clement, who is representing House Republicans in the effort to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act.
"I think that they were a contributing factor -- maybe not to adding it, but to making it a non-issue," said Fred Sainz, vice president at the Human Rights Campaign, of Boies and Olson.
Neither Boies nor Olson returned requests for comment.
"It's never been lost on the NFL that they have to represent the national sentiment of the constituency of the American public," Sainz added, pointing out that in the last Human Rights Campaign poll, 79 percent of Americans support nondiscrimination policies for LGBT individuals in employment, housing and public accommodations.
There are no openly gay professional sports players in football, basketball, baseball or hockey. The Advocate noted that three former NFL players have come out since leaving the sport.
"I think that the conditions are being created -- certainly now by this anti-discrimination language, but also what the players are saying -- for a gay player to come out. More and more Americans are coming out in their lives and their industries, so it's going to hit sports. It has to," said Brian Ellner, a senior strategist with the Human Rights Campaign who led the group's campaign for marriage equality in New York.
The NFL has received some criticism for not producing any videos for the "It Gets Better" project, which is aimed at reassuring LGBT youth who may be getting bullied that their lives will improve when they get older. Seven professional baseball teams have recorded videos for the effort.
But several individual NFL players have spoken out in favor of LGBT rights.
Brendon Ayanbadejo, a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, and Scott Fujita, a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, are both outspoken advocates of marriage equality. Donte' Stallworth, who now plays with the Washington Redskins but was previously with the Ravens, has also tweeted in support of same-sex marriage.
Steve Tisch, owner of the New York Giants, filmed a video in support of marriage equality in June, as did Michael Strahan, a former defensive end for the team.
Outside of football, Sean Avery of the New York Rangers received a significant amount of attention when he recorded an ad for HRC in support of marriage equality.
Former NBA player Charles Barkley has also said he personally would have no problem playing on the same team as an openly gay person.
"First of all, every player has played with gay guys," he said in May. "It bothers me when I hear these reporters and jocks get on TV and say: 'Oh, no guy can come out in a team sport. These guys would go crazy.' First of all, quit telling me what I think. I'd rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can't play."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Scott Fujita plays for the New Orleans Saints. Fujita played for the Saints from 2006 to 2009. He now plays for the Cleveland Browns.