There are lots of big topics taking center stage at the NFL Annual Meeting in Phoenix this week. With some highly scrutinized referee decisions in the Playoffs earlier this year, various rules proposals are under consideration. Now two decades after the Raiders and Rams left Los Angeles, interest is high in the possibility of two teams heading back to the City of Angels. Domestic violence and brain damage are top-of-mind.
LGBT issues aren't on the radar this year. At the Annual Meeting last year, You Can Play executive director Wade Davis gave two presentations that were well-received and generated conversation. I followed up on Davis' work with a number of conversations with coaches and general managers about having a gay athlete on their team or the work they might do with their franchise to make the environment more welcoming. These conversations just aren't happening this year in a deliberate way.
Larger underlying issues are being addressed head-on at the meeting, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy pointed out to me. "Respect" and behavior guidelines are taking center stage in speeches, presentations and break-out meetings. Part of that is ensuring that homophobia is reduced as a dominant force in the NFL.
Of course the big reason there's no LGBT-specific presentation is because the issue isn't being forced on the owners. When Michael Sam came out publicly last year he forced the NFL to address the issue head-on. No one has come out since, and Sam isn't on a team's roster right now. The media isn't pressuring the league to take up the issue. No one is forcing the issue.
It underlies the greater importance for athletes to come out. When a gay NFL player comes out publicly, the NFL takes action. When he doesn't, the issue drifts away.