As the NFL today kicks off Super Bowl LV (that’s 55), it’s interesting to take a step back and look at various things the league, teams, coaches and players have done that have been LGBTQ-inclusive by nature and design.
We don’t want to chronicle here every NFL player who has offered a voice of support. Those voices have come from some of the game’s biggest names, including Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Martellus Bennett, Deandre Hopkins, T.Y. Hilton, Doug Martin, Travis Kelce, Joe Thomas and countless others. If we listed every moment, the list would be hundreds of items long. Instead, I have called out a handful of particular moments that I think were noteworthy.
One thing to note, in case you’re thinking NFL players are big homophobic jocks, by 2013 we had identified 62 players who were cool with it. That was six years ago when same-sex marriage was not the law of the land. Earlier this year I identified at least 39 current NFL players who have already played with an out gay teammate. One of them — Chiefs WR Byron Pringle — is playing in the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay today.
There are also various initiatives, like that of Denver Broncos kicker Brandon McManus, that have focused more broadly on “bullying.” I’ve left those off the list as well and focused exclusively on LGBTQ-specific efforts.
Even with these exclusions, here are 55 LGBT-inclusive things that have come out of the NFL. There are many others. Feel free to add more in the comments; I’m happy to revisit the list and make it fluid. I haven’t ranked them here, only numbered them to keep track of the list.
How many did you remember happening?
1. NFL added sexual-orientation protection to CBA
In 2011, on the precipice of a major players strike, the NFL pushed for and got sexual-orientation discrimination protection in the collective bargaining agreement.
2. New York Giants owner Steve Tisch appeared in ads supporting New York marriage equality
In 2011 Tisch leant his support for the same-sex marriage battle in New York. “As an owner of the New York Giants, I am proud to join the chorus of professionals in sports working for fairness both on and off the field.”
3. New England Patriots signed pro-marriage-equality amicus brief
The Patriots, led by owner Robert Kraft, were the only NFL team to sign an amicus brief supporting the ultimate decision by SCOTUS to legalize gay marriage.
4. NFL included sex between men as part of AIDS awareness for players
The league realizes that not all its players are only into women and included gay sex in its 2015 AIDS Awareness information.
5. St. Louis Rams drafted Michael Sam
When the Rams drafted Sam in 2014, it cleared another hurdle for gay athletes looking to play openly in the league.
6. Michael Irvin appeared on Out magazine cover and talks about his gay brother
Hall of Fame Cowboys wide receiver Irvin didn’t shy away from his opportunity on the cover of gay magazine ‘Out’ when he and I talked about doing an article about him and his support for his gay brother, Vaughn, in 2011. The moment generated lots of conversation in the NFL, and Irvin heard from countless players. One Dallas magazine recently listed that cover as the second best Dallas Cowboys cover of all time.
7. Commissioner Roger Goodell has been open about having a gay brother
Having gay family members is a powerful tool in shaping how people view LGBT people, and Goodell has spoken repeatedly about his gay brother, Michael. “I had this support around me,” Michael said to Time, “so, yeah, Roger is very much a hero figure for me.”
8. The New England Patriots are sponsoring the 2017 Gay Bowl
The Patriots are the first team to sponsor the annual event of the National Gay Flag Football League
9. San Francisco 49ers sponsored GLAAD in 2007
And the 49ers won an award for their locker room ad in the GLAAD Media Awards book that appeared across the country.
10. Kansas City Chiefs staff stepped in and saved Ryan O’Callaghan’s life
When tackle Ryan O’Callaghan was exhibiting strange behavior, team staff got him help. When he came out to them privately, they offered their support and helped him turn away from suicidal plans.
11. Arizona Cardinals offered total support when team video director came out
Rob Brakel decided to come out publicly at the end of the 2014 season, and the Cardinals had his back, even if he came out hours before a big road game (which the Cardinals won).
12. NFL clarified that on-field gay slurs will cost a team 15 yards
In 2014 the NFL made it crystal-clear to all referees that any "the use of abusive, threatening or insulting language” included “comments regarding sexual orientation.”
13. NFL used Pro Bowl ‘Kiss Cam’ to send message of equality
When the 2017 Pro Bowl was held in Orlando, the site of the Pulse shooting, the NFL and The Ad Council shot a commercial about equality that they jointly released in February.
14. Los Angeles Rams sponsored Pride
The Rams sponsored Venice Pride in Los Angeles in 2017, paying to light up the “C” in a Venice sign.
15. NFL league staffer Michael Castor came out with league support
When Castor wanted to come out on Outsports earlier this year, he got the support of the front office before his story was published. Once it was out, he heard positive messages from across the league.
16. Houston Oilers players accepted two gay teammates
While they have not named names, several members of the 1993 Houston Oilers, including Warren Moon, said there were two gay players on the team, and everyone got along just fine.
17. Houston Texans owner publicly opposed Texas ‘bathroom bill’
Texans owner Bob McNair, a strong supporter of Republican politicians, publicly opposed an anti-LGBT bathroom bill in Texas in 2017.
18. Vince Lombardi had no problem with his gay players
Back in the early 70s, legendary football coach Vince Lombardi was the coach of the Washington Redskins, where he coached at least three gay players he allegedly knew or suspected were gay. Having a gay brother, Harold, he had no issue with it and set a powerful tone for handling gay players in the locker room: just like everyone else. One of those players, Dave Kopay, went on to become a trailblazer.
19. NFL credentialed Outsports to all events
The NFL has treated Outsports as a respected member of the media for years, reaching out to invite us to annual meetings and granting every Super Bowl credential we’ve ever requested. Equal access and a willingness to engage are all we can ask for.
20. Philadelphia Eagles granted dying gay fan one last wish
When lifelong Eagles fan Joe Guckin, better known as Joe In Philly to our Outsports family, was dying last autumn, the Eagles granted him an over-the-top game experience that included meeting players. Joe was incredibly touched by the gesture in his final days.
21. Green Bay Packer wore Orlando rainbow T-shirt under his game jersey
Packers safety HaHa Clinton-Dix wore a rainbow-colored Orlando United T-shirt under his game jersey during his team’s October 2016 game against the New York Giants.
22. Seahawks punter Jon Ryan called out homophobic tweets
Ryan wasn’t shy about his feelings about homophobia when a “fan” criticized gay people with the Bible. Ryan’s only regret? He didn’t lash out more harshly.
23. Arizona Cardinals publicly oppose anti-LGBT Arizona SB 1062
When it was time for Gov. Jan Brewer to codify LGBT discrimination into law, the Cardinals and Super Bowl XIX organizing committee both publicly opposed it. She didn’t sign the bill.
24. San Francisco 49ers donated $75k to Equality North Carolina
The Niners weren’t happy about the NFL hosting an owners meeting in North Carolina, which had passed an anti-LGBT law, so CEO Jed York visited Equality North Carolina and the team donated $75k.
25. New England Patriots supported trans-rights bill in Massachusetts
The Patriots joined other pro teams in Massachusetts to support a trans-rights bill in 2016 to “ensure explicit protections for transgender people under state law.”
26. Houston Texans owner Bob McNair withdrew donation to anti-LGBT group
After hoping a contribution would help rewrite and improve Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, McNair took back $10k because the efforts proved otherwise. “I do not believe in or tolerate personal or professional discrimination of any kind.”
27. Detroit Lion DeAndre Levy donated 100 tickets to LGBT groups
When an unofficial “Pride Day” was announced by the Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Levy donated 100 tickets to the Oct. 25, 2015 game.
28. Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman went all-rainbow on social media
Following the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the United States, Edelman changed his social-media profile pictures to include rainbow colors.
29. The NFL invited Wade Davis to speak at owners meeting
In 2014, after Michael Sam came out publicly, the owners and general managers of all 32 teams, plus league staff, heard Davis speak at the league annual meeting.
30. NFL courted LGBT businesses for Super Bowl 50
When it came time to put out requests for proposal for Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco, the committee organizing the event specifically sought out LGBT-owned businesses.
31. Esera Tualo sang National Anthem at Packers game
The Green Bay Packers brought back Esera Tuaolo, the gay defensive end they drafted out of Oregon State, to sing the Star-Spangled Banner before a game in 2014.
32. Dallas Cowboys signed Michael Sam to practice squad
After the St. Louis Rams cut Michael Sam, the Cowboys stepped in and signed him a couple days later to their practice squad. Sam lasted about six weeks before being cut.
33. Chris Kluwe forced Minnesota Vikings to support LGBT causes
It’s “good news/bad news.” But today we’re focusing on the good. Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe was not about to let his former team off the hook for horrific inflammatory statements by a coach. His lawsuit forced the Vikings to donate $100k to LGBT charities and suspend the offending coach.
34. Esera Tuaolo addresses rookies at NFL symposium
Out gay former defensive end Tuaolo was invited by the NFL, to talk about issues facing gay athletes, in 2006.
35. Miami Dolphins suspended Don Jones for anti-Sam tweet
When Dolphins safety Don Jones tweeted that he thought two men kissing was “horrible,” the team suspended him until he engaged in sensitivity training.
36. New York Giants made You Can Play video
The team featured several players supporting the LGBT-inclusion program, and also hosted LGBT youth at a game, in 2015.
37. Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosted LGBT Community Tailgate Party before game in 2014
The Bucs hosted what is believed to be a “league first” in 2014, hosting an LGBT-specific team-sponsored tailgate party before an NFL game.
38. NFL Network piece on Jerry Smith fully embraced his gayness
NFL Films decided to produce the documentary on Smith in large part because he was gay in hopes of creating a push to get him into the Hall Of Fame.
39. Victor Cruz gave bullied gay teen a tour of New York Giants locker room
Cruz met Joey Kemmerling through NFL Characters Unite.
40. NFL executives and former players visited LGBT youth
Former NFL players and NFL player-engagement execs Troy Vincent and Dwight Hollier visiting the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which cares for and educates LGBT youth, many of whom are homeless, as part of You Can Play’s “High Five Initiative.”
41. Thursday Night Football wore purple on Spirit Day
Rich Eisen, Steve Mariucci and Michael Irvin all wore purple in support of bullied LGBT youth for 2013 Spirit Day.
42. Steve Young gave keynote speech at LGBT Mormon conference
The Hall of Fame quarterback continues his support of the LGBT community.
43. Former NFL players marched in 2013 Chicago Pride Parade
Marques Sullivan and Reggie Smith represented the NFL Players Association at Chicago Pride.
44. 49ers and Raiders in Bay Area You Can Play video
Comcast SportsNet put together an LGBT-supportive video that featured the San Francisco 49ers (repped by Vernon Davis) and the Oakland Raiders (Marcel Reece).
45. NFL sent all staffers and teams guidance on sexual orientation respect
In 2013 the NFL front office distributed guidelines on how to be respectful of people’s sexual orientation. It went to all league staffers and people at all 32 teams.
46. NFL league office hosted meeting with LGBT groups
In 2013 the NFL hosted several LGBT-focused groups to discuss how the league can better support the community.
47. New York Giants gave LGBT football team the VIP treatment
In 2008 the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants hosted the defending Gay Bowl champion New York Warriors at training camp.
48. Andre Tippett represented New England Patriots at Gay Bowl III
In 2003, former NFL great Andre Tippett represented the New England Patriots at the Gay Bowl in Boston, even executing the ceremonial coin toss.
49. Michael Strahan joined campaign for marriage equality
Hall of Famer Michael Strahan wasn’t shy about his support for marriage equality in New York, shooting a video in support of the proposed legislation in 2011.
50. NFL launched LGBT employee group, NFL Pride
The league has launched an employee resource group, NFL Pride, for LGBT employees and friends of the community to support one another and guide the NFL on LGBT issues.
51. San Francisco 49ers front office, coaches and players support out coach Katie Sowers
When 49ers assistant coach Katie Sowers came out publicly in August, she did so with the support of people across the team.
52. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue donates $1 million to LGBT Center
After he left the NFL as commissioner, Tagliabue and his wife, who have a gay son, donated $1 million to the Georgetown LGBT Center.
53. San Francisco 49ers hire Katie Sowers as a coach
Sowers is the first publicly out gay coach in NFL history, and the first to coach in a Super Bowl.
54. NFL brings in gay former players to participate in New York Pride March
The NFL had a float in World Pride in 2019 and included Ryan O’Callaghan, Esera Tuaolo, Jeff Rohrer and Wade Davis as part of the float. They also participated in 2018 New York Pride.
55. NFL produces LGBTQ-support video for National Coming Out Day
The NFL produced a video with out LGBTQ former players, as well as some current stars like Rob Gronkowksi, to demonstrate support for LGBTQ athletes and the community.