By Bill Bradley, contributing editor
While the subject of respect among players is on the front-burner, the NFL's human resources director said the league has been preparing for years for another workplace issue: the entrance of openly gay players.
Robert Gulliver, the NFL's executive vice president for human resources, said last week the league's work with Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender groups predates the decision of Missouri linebacker Michael Sam to come out as gay.
"We've been working with organizations that include You Can Play, Athlete Ally and GLAAD and we've been having some good candid discussions about the fact that LGBT diversity is important to us," Gulliver said. "It's included in our collective bargaining agreement. It's included in our policies. We continue to make sure that everyone knows where we stand relative to diversity and inclusion."
Sam, the Southeastern Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year, came out as gay earlier this year. Various draft experts have him being selected in next month's NFL draft from rounds five to seven.
At the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando last month, the NFL brought in former player Wade Davis, who came out almost 10 years after he retired, to talk to league owners and executives about inclusion issues. He has been active in the LGBT community since coming out.
"He came in and spoke very candidly to debunk some myths about having a gay player in the locker room," Gulliver said. "We are having the right dialogue. We are continuing to leverage the right partnership. And we're continuing to let everyone know where we stand in terms of diversity and inclusion not just across race and gender and religion, but sexual orientation as well."
Last season there were reports that a handful of current players would come out as gay, but it never materialized. Gulliver wouldn't speculate if Sam's entrance would make other gay players feel comfortable enough come out. But he said the NFL is making every effort to create an atmosphere of inclusion in the locker room.
"I don't know what the impact is going to be on other gay players in terms of decisions that they make to come out," Gulliver said. "I know that that is something that everybody needs to assess on a personal level.
"But what I do hope is that with everything we're doing, there's an understanding about diversity and inclusion and how the National Football League really does take seriously the notion that we are diverse and inclusive for everybody."