A few hours from now the NFL's first-year player draft is set to begin. This year an openly gay athlete will wait to hear his name called by the NFL commissioner. His name is Michael Sam and these next days will be the longest of his life. Only 32 players will be selected in the first round, and odds are Michael Sam will not be one of them, but by Friday morning speculation will be rampant: What NFL team will be the first in history to roster an openly-gay player?
The NFL's hiring practices are different than most businesses. Its job candidates are thoroughly vetted, from an analysis of their collegiate careers to the physical tests and exams conducted at the annual NFL Combine to determine how and if a player’s skills translate to the professional level. In the real working world, potential employees are chosen based on previous performance or evaluated skill level. Employers conduct one-on-one interviews, administer skills tests and compete for the services of top talent. On second thought, perhaps these two hiring processes are not so dissimilar?
Per federal laws, job applicants can offer information, such as whether or not they are married or have a girlfriend, which would indicate sexual orientation or preference. However organizations are forbidden to ask any questions of that nature. Michael Sam, recently awarded the Arthur Ashe Award for courage by ESPN, volunteered this information in announcing that he was gay prior to the NFL Combine.
Remarkably, amid a slow but growing acceptance and tolerance for the LGBT community, this year's draft will stand as the first time an openly-gay player has applied for work in the NFL. Perhaps this has something to do with an issue recently brought to light in the bullying scandal that tainted the 2013 season of the Miami Dolphins. That investigation concluded that "a pattern of harassment" consisting of racial and homophobic slurs along with vicious sexual taunts about offensive lineman Jonathan Martin's mother and sister by three of his teammates, had indeed occurred. Since the release of the NFL’s findings, Jonathan Martin has been traded to the San Francisco 49ers and Richie Incognito, his harasser, has been released and remains unemployed.
The NBA's recent "racism" headlines are new compared to the NFL's long-standing elephant in the room: the Washington Redskins.
How are racial slurs addressed in businesses other than the NFL? Just over a year ago, Hyun Lee of Egg Harbor, New Jersey, was collecting her developed photos from a local CVS. She noticed that the cashier had identified her as “Ching Chong Lee” on her receipt. The courts agreed with MS. Lee that, “Ching Chong” is known to be a pejorative, racist slur that mocks people of Chinese ancestry or other Asians who may be mistaken for Chinese. Her federal discrimination lawsuit against CVS Caremark Corp seeking punitive damages of $1 million, and the termination of the discriminating employee was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Now, imagine life as an NFL player or even a fan with a Native American heritage. To many the term “Redskin” is just as offensive as the N-word, "Ching Chong" or any other racial slur. The term has even been deemed offensive by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office which recently denied an application to register the trademark “Redskins Hog Rinds” on the basis that it contained “a derogatory slang term,” according to a letter from the agency. Yet, there are literally millions of pieces of NFL merchandise brandishing a “dated and offensive” term.
The NFL is a business. It booked more than $9.5 billion in revenues in 2013. That exceeds Motorola ($8.7B), Coca-Cola ($7.6B), and nearly double the revenues of Facebook ($5.1B). NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been proactive in improving player safety standards and enforcing disciplinary actions aimed at curbing player off-the-field incidents, arrests and substance abuse. We hope he will continue to extend that pro-active attitude toward league-wide anti-harassment, anti-bullying and anti-racism policies.
At Media Partners, we produce and distribute training videos designed to keep companies and organizations in compliance with mandatory workplace laws and policies. We are also huge NFL fans and can't wait for the draft.
Christopher Flores currently works as a copywriter and editor for Media Partners. He has over 15 years customer service experience, including both retail and call center management.