Feb 5, 2024; Las Vegas, NV, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference in advance of Super Bowl LVIII between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers at Allegiant Stadium. | Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Outsports has reached out to the commissioners of the Big Five sports leagues in America, asking them about LGBTQ inclusion and Pride Month. This is part of that series.

When the NFL hosted an LGBTQ Pride discussion panel at its New York City office seven years ago, some employees were surprised that Commissioner Roger Goodell attended the event.

Yet most surprising for many of them was that he didn’t just stop by. Goodell — the most powerful person in all of American sports — stayed the entire hour, engaging after the conversation with the gay panelists, snapping photos and asking questions.

“That just doesn’t happen,” Al Riveron, then the head of officiating for the league, said at the time.

For Goodell, it was a clarifying moment.

“One of the most important jobs I have as commissioner is to listen,” Goodell told Outsports in an exclusive interview for Pride Month. “That day, we were forming our Pride employee resource group, so I wanted to show my support for our staff and engage with panelists like NFL Legend Ryan O’Callaghan.”

Listening is leadership.

NFL and Roger Goodell have helped lead the way for sports’ LGBTQ inclusion

While Goodell and the NFL face questioning from seemingly every angle — that’s what happens when you’re on top — one area you won’t find much criticism (other than from homophobes) is regarding the league’s LGBTQ inclusion efforts.

For decades, football and the NFL have been held up as a “bastion of masculinity.” Yet the NFL under each of the last two commissioners has moved the needle, likely in part due to the connection each of these men has had to the LGBTQ community.

Paul Tagliabue — Goodell’s predecessor and the league commissioner for 17 years — has a gay son, Drew.

Goodell has a gay brother, Michael. Over the years, Roger has shared stories about his brother, who in turn has talked about how Roger would defend him from bullies in school.

“I love Michael and I’m proud of him,” Roger said.

Yet even before these two men steered the behemoth NFL ship, the league was ahead of the curve.

The NFL has more active and retired athletes — at least 16 — who have come out publicly as gay or bi than the NBA, MLB, MLS and the NHL.


The first retired male team-sport pro athlete to come out publicly was from the NFL: Dave Kopay.

The NFL is also the only major pro sports league in the United States that’s had a male coach who’s come out publicly: Jacksonville Jaguars strength coach Kevin Maxen.

Yes, that’s all the NFL.

Roger Goodell and the NFL advance LGBTQ inclusion

In Goodell’s tenure, the NFL and its teams have made dozens, if not hundreds, of outreach touchpoints to the LGBTQ community. Just this week, the New York Giants held an event for the New York Gay Flag Football League at the yet-unopened Stonewall Visitors Center. The Buffalo Bills announced a sponsorship of a new LGBTQ flag football league in the city.

Goodell points to two league-wide partnerships the NFL has created that he finds powerfully reflect their commitment to the community. Each of those partnerships highlights an LGBTQ organization.

“After Carl Nassib came out, we partnered with Carl and The Trevor Project on a marketing campaign called ‘Football is for everyone,'” Goodell said, “boosting awareness of this life-saving organization.”

The NFL has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to The Trevor Project since Nassib came out publicly in 2021. Those donations in turn have generated hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more donation dollars as well.

Goodell also points to the NFL using its biggest stage — and the biggest stage in all of American pro sports — to include and elevate LGBTQ voices.

“Our Super Bowl Night of Pride events with GLAAD have been powerful. Creating a space for the LGBTQ community and allies during our biggest week sends a message that we value inclusion and opportunity for all.”

Not just words, Goodell — maybe the most sought-after and busiest person at any Super Bowl week — has attended the GLAAD-co-hosted Super Bowl event himself.

Sarah Kate Ellis and Roger Goodell
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell literally embraces the LGBTQ community, and in this case GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. | Michael Chow/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Roger Goodell supports LGBTQ people coming out across the NFL

Today, none of the Big Five men’s pro sports leagues in America have a publicly out gay athlete. While there may be some out female coaches, again, Maxen is the only out male coach in any of the leagues.

To many, this lack of representation in 2024 seems like a step backward.

Goodell is looking forward. He said he speaks about his support of LGBTQ people in the NFL — and the support of the league and its teams — when he can.

“Both publicly and privately, I’ve made clear that if any member of the NFL family comes out, we will have their back,” he said.

That comes from a belief that diversity of perspective and opinion are positive elements to a business like the NFL.

A football team — in the NFL, each of the 32 rosters has 53 players — represents a wide array of people and opinions. Black. White. Hispanic. Pacific Islander. Muslim. Christian.

And yes, Goodell has also recognized: Gay. Straight. Bi.

He embraces everyone.

“Each coming out has confirmed what I’ve always known to be true: Diversity makes us better and LGBTQ people continue to contribute to the success of the NFL.”