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NFL Must Block Sexual Orientation Bias, N.Y. Says

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Minnesota Vikings Punter Chris Kluwe
Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has been active in advocating for gay rights. Photographer: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

March 14 (Bloomberg) -- The National Football League must take steps to ensure that teams don’t discriminate against players or recruits based on sexual orientation, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.

Schneiderman said today that he sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about the issue after three prospective players said they were asked questions related to sexual orientation at a scouting session last month.

“From the scouting combine to the playing fields, everyone deserves equal protection under the law and the right to a fair workplace,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

The attorney general asked the NFL, which has headquarters in New York, to issue a public statement and leaguewide policy that any form of discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation by teams against recruits or players “constitutes a violation of state, local and, in some cases, contractual law, and will not be tolerated,” according to a copy of the letter provided by his office and bearing today’s date.

The NFL said in a statement last month that it would investigate one recruit’s claims, saying teams are “expected to follow applicable federal, state and local employment laws.”

At least 20 of the league’s 32 teams are in jurisdictions that prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment based on sexual orientation, according to the attorney general’s letter.

Will Respond

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said today in an e-mail that the league is looking into the matter and will discuss it further at its annual meeting in Phoenix. Aiello said the league had received the attorney general’s letter and will respond to it.

University of Colorado tight end Nick Kasa said in a radio interview that teams at the NFL scouting combine asked him personal questions possibly aimed at determining his sexual orientation. University of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and Michigan State University running back Le’Veon Bell have made similar claims, according to ESPN.

“They ask you like, ‘Do you have a girlfriend? Are you married? Do you like girls?’” Kasa said last month in an interview with ESPN Radio Denver. “It’s kind of weird, but they would ask you with a straight face.”

The questions drew criticism from NFL players including Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who have been active in advocating for gay rights.

‘Doesn’t Matter’

“It doesn’t matter what your sexuality is; it matters what can you do on the field,” Kluwe said on the syndicated Dan Patrick Show on March 2. “Hopefully, in a couple of years, maybe a decade, we’ll be past this.”

The NFL in 2011 included in its collective bargaining agreement a commitment that there will be no discrimination against any player based on sexual orientation. The provision doesn’t “appear to provide any protection to prospective players during the recruitment process,” Schneiderman said.

“It is league policy to neither consider nor inquire about sexual orientation in the hiring process,” according to last month’s statement from the NFL. “There are specific protections in our collective bargaining agreement with the players that prohibit discrimination against any player, including on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Schneiderman asked for a meeting with NFL officials about the issue.

To contact the reporters on this story: David McLaughlin in New York at dmclaughlin9@bloomberg.net; Eben Novy-Williams in New York at enovywilliams@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Pickering at jpickering@bloomberg.net; Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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