NFL addresses respect in the workplace in post-Incognito, pre-Sam world


Michael Sam and the Missouri football team were honored at a basketball game Saturday. (L.G. Patterson / AP)

A new ESPN poll shows that 86 percent of NFL players questioned would accept an openly gay teammate, but the NFL is taking no chances.

Over the last two months, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has met with more than 30 players to discuss how to make locker rooms more professional, according to a report by Peter King on MMQB.com. King writes that it’s time for Goodell to earn that $44 million he received in 2013, that he must “professionalize football.” It’s a particularly pressing issue given that an independent investigator looking into the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin incidents in the Miami Dolphins’ locker room and that Missouri’s Michael Sam may become the league’s first openly gay player in the fall. From King:

“Commissioner,” highly respected Philadelphia wide receiver Jason Avant told Goodell in a recent meeting, “we need you to set standards. We need you to make it black and white. We need standards, and if we don’t meet them, we shouldn’t be here.”

Troy Vincent, the league’s vice-president of player engagement, and Robert Gulliver, the NFL’s chief human resources officer, have been involved in the meetings.

“I think you’ll see workplace training conducted for the football side,’’ Vincent told King. “The kind of respect-at-work training that happens on the second floor, in the business offices, needs to happen on the first floor, with the players.’’ More from King:

And while they’re at it, the NFL is going to put in a seminar for players and coaches and staff on sexual-orientation training. Call it the Michael Sam Seminar. It’s coming, and it should. Homosexuality is not going away, and there’s no reason why any gay player in any NFL locker room should be subject to one-tenth of what Jonathan Martin had to endure over the past two years.

An ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine survey of 51 players who were offered anonymity after Sam’s announcement showed that, while 44 of the players said that a teammate’s sexual orientation did not matter, 32 said that teammates and or coaches had used homophobic slurs last season. Thirty-nine said they would be comfortable showering around a gay teammate, but only 25 players said an openly gay player would be comfortable in an NFL locker room (21 said a player would not be comfortable and five refused to answer).

“Whoever takes [Sam in the draft] should have an open talk at the beginning of camp, where everybody can ask what he’s comfortable with, what offends him, what boundaries there should be,” an unnamed wide receiver told ESPN. “When it comes to race, people already know the boundaries, to a certain extent. But I don’t think football players are overly familiar with what can and can’t be said around a gay person.”

In an essay for ESPN, former Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos lineman Mark Schlereth notes that there was a crucial lack of leadership within the Dolphins’ locker room. The NFL is trying to enlighten players so that when Sam or someone else makes a roster, the workplace is not abusive.

Professional sports are filled with unwritten rules of behavior, and that is fine, but there are lines that shouldn’t get crossed in following those rules. If they do get crossed, well, there should be enough men with character and integrity to stand up and put an end to it.

This is what bothers me the most about the Miami Dolphins. Where were the men of character? Where were the men of integrity who would intercede on behalf of a hurting teammate, a member of the family?

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.

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Cindy Boren · February 17, 2014

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