TAG | Scott Fujita
While the public focused on the major financial issues resolved in the new NFL collective bargaining agreement—revenue sharing, the salary cap, and a rookie wage scale—one change was the most newsworthy in my view: adding “sexual orientation” to the list of classifications protected from discrimination.
The language from the 2006 Collective Bargaining Agreement Article VII, Player Security, 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 because of race, religion, national origin or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.
The new language in the 2011 CBA, now moved to Article 49, 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 because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.
(For a little linguistic aside, note the addition of the serial comma prior to “or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.” While this could just be a stylistic change in drafting to include the comma, which is best, I need to add—I didn’t check any other lists of more than three items anywhere else in the document for consistency—it makes me chuckle a bit thinking that someone may have insisted on adding the comma to clarify that it wasn’t “sexual orientation or activity” that was being protected.)
Anyway, I remember reading the language in the 2006 CBA a few years back and hoping that this change would be made in the new agreement. In fact, if I may, in my second post on this blog, on November 7, 2009, I asked the question, “What will it take for an athlete to come out?” writing that one of five necessary developments would be increased support from sports organizations.
In that post, I wrote:
I understand that the sports industry is a money-making machine and that each league and team fears supporting gay rights would affect their bottom line. But what about the player’s associations? Do they have to wait for a player to come out in order to press for discrimination protections to be incorporated into the collective bargaining agreements? Obviously, they could do it now; there is just no pressure to do so. They act on what they know their players want, and without a player stepping forward for protection of gay players, they have nothing to act on. Maybe I’m too much of an idealist, but I’d think an organization with the purpose of protecting the interest of its members may act on the behalf of a silent minority. Maybe they haven’t thought about it.
Fast-forward to 2011 and it happened.
Honestly, with the focus of the lockout and labor negotiations being on so many financial matters, I did not expect any progress to be made on the issue. (It’s partially the reason I didn’t compare the language—which has been available for weeks now—until now.)
With that, I obviously was curious how it came to be.
Could it have been New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft?
After all, Kraft was one of the most integral parties in the CBA negotiations and has a history of supporting the LGBT community. Yahoo! Sports wrote an incredible piece about Kraft’s involvement in securing the new CBA, passing along this great bit: Indianapolis Colts General Manager Bill Polian wrote a letter to Kraft which read, “This CBA, and the great future it provides to the NFL, would not, could not have been done without you. Everyone in the league owes you a debt of gratitude.” Kraft’s support of the LGBT community has been documented before by this blog.
Maybe it was Ted Olson and David Boies?
Olson and Boies are the two lead attorneys of the case challenging the anti-gay Proposition 8 in California. They also were on opposite sides of the NFL negotiations (Boies with the owners and Olson with the players).
Could it have been Scott Fujita?
After all, Fujita is the NFLPA rep for the Cleveland Browns and is one of the most outspoken LGBT allies in the sport.
Thankfully, with Twitter making athletes more accessible these days, I was fortunate to exchange a few messages with Fujita. Hoping he might know, I asked him if he had any idea who brought it up, if there was any opposition to adding the language, or if there was any substantial discussion on the subject.
Not aware of any discussion on that. Our counsel is pretty progressive & on top of such issues, so I imagine this was worked out during the “lawyer” discussions when players weren’t around. There were multiple layers/rounds of discussions, and once Brady case was settled we entered into CBA related “union” discussions. At this pt players were in training camp, so we couldn’t be as involved, unfortunately.
Well, I guess it wasn’t Fujita. So maybe it was the lawyers. Or maybe it was Kraft. Or maybe someone we’d never expect.
And that being the extent of my investigatory journalism efforts (and connections), I/we may never know.
Regardless of how it came to be, the progress is there. Having explicit language protecting the class is a big step towards helping a player come out while actively playing. There may still be fears of abuse from fans or opposing players, but at least a gay player can be protected from being cut from a team, or from any other adverse action, coming from the organizational level. (I’m assuming there is some strong enforcement/remedy provision in the CBA to give the non-discrimination language some teeth.)
With allies like Kraft and Fujita in the game, we’ll get there.
The non-profit organization Freedom to Marry is sending a letter to President Obama asking him “to complete [his] journey and join us and the majority of Americans who support the freedom to marry.” (Full letter below.)
The 25 main signers of the letter include prominent actors, entrepreneurs, and athletes. The two athletes who signed are NFL stars Brendon Ayanbadejo and Scott Fujita. Both have been active in supporting the gay community.
Joining the list of gay celebrities and straight allies are: Zach Wahls, who became a recognizable advocate after delivering this speech to the Iowa House of Representatives, and Evan Wolfson, Executive Director of Freedom to Marry, who spoke at my school, the Moritz College of Law, in January.
Most importantly, you can add your name to the list! At the time that I write this, there have been 25,301 signers.
The letter, along with the prominent 25 signers, reads:
Dear Mr. President:
In February, you made a powerful statement about the law.
Invoking guarantees enshrined in the Constitution, you and the Attorney General determined that federal discrimination against gay and lesbian couples in marriage is unconstitutional. Thank you for taking a principled stance and an important step toward equal protection under the law for all Americans.
Today we ask you to take the next step and join the majority of Americans who support allowing loving and committed gay and lesbian couples to legally marry.
Mr. President, marriage matters. In law, in love, in life, marriage says “we are family” in a way that nothing else does. Marriage is the coming together of two lives, marked by a public promise of love and responsibility in front of friends and family. And marriage brings not only public respect and personal significance, but also a safety net of legal protections, rights, and responsibilities for which there is no substitute.
Like so many Americans, you have spoken of your personal journey toward support for the freedom to marry. You have talked about the gay and lesbian people in your life, their commitment to each other and care for their kids, and their families that aren’t so different from any other family.
We ask you now for your leadership on ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, an exclusion that harms millions of Americans each day. Whether to end discrimination in marriage is a question America has faced before, and faces again today. With so many Americans talking it through in heartfelt conversations, it is a question that calls for clarity from the President.
You can offer hope to millions of young gay and lesbian Americans who are facing discrimination. You can tell them that their future is bright, that they, too, will be able to grow up and marry the person that they love, that the pursuit of happiness truly belongs to all of us. You can put government on the side of those seeking to care for their loved ones, instead of those standing in their way. You can affirm that for all of us, gay or non-gay, love is love and commitment counts – and that we Americans should treat others as we all want to be treated.
Mr. President, the time to end exclusion from marriage is now. We ask you to complete your journey and join us and the majority of Americans who support the freedom to marry.
Helen Fabela Chavez
Ellen & Portia DeGeneres
Chris Hughes & Sean Eldridge
Tony Kushner & Mark Harris
Jane Lynch & Lara Embry
Rev. Peter Morales
Frank Selvaggi & Bill Shea
Rev. William Sinkford
Lily Tomlin & Jane Wagner
Bob & Suzanne Wright
A group of players and coaches from the Australian Football League has joined a campaign to battle homophobia, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. The best way to describe the sport, as I’ve gathered, is that it is like a hybrid of rugby and soccer. Most importantly, it is one of Australia’s most popular sports making the participation of these athletes significant.
The campaign, which is run by the league’s player’s association, featured the players being photographed holding simple hand-written messages. Some examples: ”We all have our little differences – celebrate them!” and ”Homophobic His-story!”
Those messages are certainly powerful, and I appreciate the athletes using their celebrity status so positively. The part of the story that I find most intriguing is the role that the player’s association had in sponsoring the campaign. And it makes me wonder: could the NFL, especially the NFL Player’s Association, have a similar program?
Obviously they could, if they wanted, and I’ve always felt that they should. These PA’s have a responsibility to promote the interests of their players. They would have to be impossibly naïve to think there are not gay players in their ranks, and knowing that, their responsibilities as an organization extend to those gay players.
So, what should they do?
First, I think they should simply take minor steps to extend protections and benefits to gay players. Like in any other industry, gay people worry about the security of their jobs and taking care of their families. So, add sexual orientation to the standard non-discrimination clause so a player could not be cut for being gay and extend spousal benefits to same-sex partners. Of course, no player would take advantage of those benefits right now, but at least they would be in place for when a player was ready to come out.
Second, although the PA may want to try to slip these provisions into the CBA quietly, if they wanted to publicize it, they could run a campaign similar to that of the Australian Football League. I know Scott Fujita and Brendon Ayanbadejo would volunteer their support, and I’m sure others would as well, given the opportunity.
So, what’s stopping them from doing so?
Ultimately, I really doubt the issue is on their radar. And since these player’s associations generally function more reactively than proactively, until a gay player specifically makes a claim or allies from within the sport challenge the policies, the PAs will not act.
Until they do, let’s continue to celebrate the progress to battle homophobia made day-by-day. Thank you to the Australian Football League Player’s Association for leading the way.
Congratulations to the New Orleans Saints for winning Super Bowl 44. I am a fan of both these teams, but needing some factor to push the scales towards one team for rooting interests, the Scott-Fujita-Effect was pivotal.
When Fujita voiced his support for the National Equality March this past October (and gay rights in general), he noted, “For me, in my small platform as a professional football player, I understand that my time in the spotlight is probably limited.” I hope that in becoming a Super Bowl champion, his platform is enlarged, and that he seizes the opportunity to continue being an advocate for us.
Now, the bad news: for those of you like me, the end of the NFL season is the worst time of the year. Yes, I know pitchers and catchers report to spring training in a few weeks, March Madness is right around the corner, and the end of the NBA season can be exciting as we get into the summer months. We even get a bonus this year with the Winter Olympics and the World Cup. But those only provide a blip on the calendar to ease the frustrations of the NFL off-season, at least in my world.
There needs to be a support group for people like me, as these are the only dates I’m really interested in:
- February 24 – Combine
- April 22 – Draft
- Early May – Rookie Camps
- Early June – Mini-Camps
- Late July – Training Camps
- August – Preseason
- September – Regular Season (can’t come fast enough…)
I must take this time to thank all of allies to the gay community. In being out, I have had the amazing opportunity to feel the support and friendship of many. Over the past year, there have been members of the sports industry vocalizing their support as well. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and I suspect there are countless others that I either missed, that did not get substantial media coverage, or that made their support in private. I hope that it never becomes redundant for a player, coach, or executive to do so. If you know of any others that are not listed below, please pass them along.
I am thankful to these people for the support they have given in the past year (or so). Listed in reverse chronological order with a quick summary plus links to the original stories.
Nov 25 – Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke and Miami U. (Ohio) Hockey Coach Enrico Blasi support Brendan Burke
Just this past week there was a great article about Brendan Burke and the support he has received from his father, NHL General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brian Burke, and Coach Enrico Blasi of Miami University (Ohio) where Brendan is a student assistant to the hockey team. That these two organizations could be receptive to a gay player is simply amazing. Read more about Brendan’s story and the response from his family and friends: ESPN and OutSports.
Nov 3 – Justin Bourne, ex-hockey player turned writer, calls for the end of using gay slurs in hockey
Justin Bourne isn’t exactly a household hockey name. He’s no Crosby or Ovechkin. I only recognize the name because he shares it with someone who I went to high school with (who, I’ll admit and accept the shame, dunked on me so hard in high school recreational basketball). So although Bourne may not have the same voice that an NHL superstar may have, I am thankful that he has taken the platform he has and his knack for writing to call for the end of using gay slurs in hockey. Read the column he wrote for USA Today or check out his blog.
Oct 6 – Scott Fujita, New Orleans Saints Linebacker, voices his support of gay rights and the National Equality march
I am so glad that Scott Fujita did a few interviews prior to the National Equality March. He is incredibly intelligent, articulate, and well-reasons. Speaking as an adopted child, he understands the importance of having good adoptive families, a challenging or even impossible process for gay prospective parents. The important factor for an adoptive parent is to be loving and supportive, not their sexuality, and it is the kids that ultimately suffer. There is an excellent question and answer interview with Scott in the Huffington Post or you can listen to an interview he did with the Edge of Sports radio show.
Apr 23 – Baltimore Ravens Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo asks: what’s the big deal with gay marriage?
Before Scott Fujita, Brendon Ayanbadejo made the biggest splash of the year for NFL players supporting the gay rights movement. While none of his remarks about gay marriage are earth-shattering, he asks those same questions that the defenders of traditional marriage never seem to have an answer for: namely, how sacred is marriage considering the divorce rate and pathetic traditions in our society like Las Vegas marriages. Read Ayanbadejo’s column in the Huffington Post.
Nov 8, 2008 – Steve Young and his wife Barbara shun the Mormon plea to support the ban on gay marriage by donating $50,000 to the No on 8 campaign
Okay, this is more than a year old, but I am still very grateful and want to express it. During the Proposition 8 campaign last year in California, the Mormon church encouraged its members across the country to help ban gay marriage. Well, Barbara and Steve Young donated the other way and also proudly posted No on 8 signs in their house. I was quite disgusted by the response posted on an article covering the story; the Mormons came out in throngs to condemn the Youngs. Forget the supposed major tenets of Mormonism for free agency and love, in general. Hypocrisy is an amazing thing. I’ve since lost that specific link, unfortunately, but here are two other articles one by CBS5 and another by the SF Gate.