NFL Adds Sexual Orientation as Protected Class

By Lucas Grindley

Originally published on September 25 2011 1:51 PM ET

 If an NFL player decides to come out and live openly as a gay man, some of the risk of losing his job is now gone.

The NFL has added sexual orientation to its list of protected classes, a change first noticed by Pete Olsen of the blog, Wide Rights.

A new collective bargaining agreement from the NFL Players Association states that, "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."

Olsen discovered the change after comparing the latest version of the agreement to the last one in 2006, which didn't include the words, "sexual orientation." The new agreement was ratified by the players on August 4 and signed by the commissioner the next day. It lasts until 2021.

Three former NFL players have come out after leaving the sport behind — Esera Tuaolo in 2002, Roy Simmons in 1992, and David Kopay in 1975. But none has lived openly while still playing.

Tuaolo played with Sterling Sharpe, who said during the HBO Real Sports special in which Tuaolo came out, that if he had lived openly then "he would have been eaten alive, and he would have been hated for it."

Most recently, former Dallas Cowboys star Michael Irvin appeared on the cover of Out magazine earlier this year and talked about what he learned from having a gay brother, and he promised support to any player who decides to come out while playing in the NFL.