Reports of potential NFL players being asked such questions as “Do you like girls?” have surfaced and are being criticized as apparent attempts to ascertain the individual player’s sexual orientation. These reports follow statements made by a few NFL players opining that homosexual teammates would not be welcome in the locker room. Fans often forget that the NFL Teams are employers and must comply with all federal and applicable state anti-discrimination laws.
The authorities that enforce the anti-discrimination laws have taken notice. In fact, because of the reported questions, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent a formal letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell pointing out that at least 20 of the League’s 32 teams are located in states that “prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment based on sexual orientation.” Moreover, under federal employment laws, while sexual orientation is not a protected category, discrimination or harassment in the workplace based on an individual’s failure to conform to stereotypical characteristics of masculinity or femininity is illegal. It’s an open question whether the assumption that a homosexual male is unable to perform in the NFL the same way as a non-homosexual male could be actionable conduct.
In response to media attention, the NFL stated on February 27, “It is league policy to neither consider nor inquire about sexual orientation in the hiring process. In addition, there are specific protections in our collective bargaining agreement with the players that prohibit discrimination against any player, including on the basis of sexual orientation.”
Ultimately, NFL Teams are employers, although their “office” looks a lot different from the average workplace, and the NFL Combine is not your average job interview.