According to Robert Gulliver, the NFL’s executive vice president and chief human resources officer, the league is launching an LGBTQ affinity group following what he called a “groundswell of employees” asking their diversity council for it. So the NFL Diversity Committee has undertaken a new effort to promote awareness and education for LGBTQ+ causes with their new affinity group, NFL Pride.


This new group joins other affinity groups in the NFL’s Diversity Committee: the Women’s Interactive Network, Black Engagement Network and Community Teammates to promote achievement of the Diversity Committee’s mission of cultivating an organization with community-wide representation of a variety of people at all levels to respect, honor and celebrate the broad range of human differences. It’s also to embrace people’s commonalities, providing each individual with the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential in the pursuit of NFL organizational goals.


As a follow-up to that, through networking events, speakers, community outreach and employee education, the mission of NFL Pride is to “serve LGBTQ+ employees and their allies as they support a culture of inclusion. All employees are invited and encouraged to join and participate in planning and/or attending events.”


Officially launched at an August 16 event, the gathering of about 150 people included NFL officials, employees, journalists and many current as well as former openly gay professional athletes Billy Bean, former MLB player and now head office adviser to Commissioner Rob Manfred; Jason Collins of the NBA; and recently retired NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan who just came out this past summer.


As a former NFL player, O’Callaghan was a guest speaker at the launch to share his experiences so others can truly understand the importance of such a committee within the league. Talking about his story playing with the Kansas City Chiefs while still closeted, he shared that he was seriously contemplating suicide due to feelings fear and anxiety about his teammates discovering his sexual orientation.


O’Callaghan experienced firsthand the homophobic culture that is prevalent in professional sports, telling USA Today that while closeted, he couldn’t help but take personally the homophobic things he heard coming from his teammates even though they weren’t personally directed at him.


Being closeted led to a substance abuse problem with him trying to put on a front as a “sloppy straight guy” until he started seeing a therapist at the recommendation of the Kansas City Chief’s head athletic trainer. Living in the closet during his years as a player certainly took a toll on O’Callaghan. Now six years following his retirement he has come out openly as gay, saying he feels a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders.


NFL Pride will consult on best practices for the league and its teams to adopt, ensuring that the homophobic culture within American Football is dismantled. The goal is to replace it with a more LGBTQ+-friendly and inclusive environment so no other LGBTQ+ athletes or employees must remain closeted, facing the same issues that O’Callaghan and many athletes before him have faced.


NFL Pride will serve multiple roles for the NFL. It will help the league better understand LGBTQ+ causes and help build awareness of how these issues affect the culture of the organization and its teams. In addition to building a more inclusive community within the NFL staff by encouraging the hiring of openly LGBTQ+ people, the affinity group will serve as a consultant for various NFL departments, including marketing and merchandise to build a better understanding of how the NFL can better reach out and connect with its LGBTQ+ fans.


Following the recent political history of states like North Carolina and Texas that have tried, even passed overtly homophobic bathroom bills, another vital role for the group is to advise the league on site selections for various NFL events. Now, when the NFL selects a site for events like the draft, the combine, even the Super Bowl, LGBTQ+ and ally employees will have a voice to speak out against hosting an NFL event in cities and states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws.


As a complement to the diversity committee’s three other affinity groups, the NFL Pride Committee will be lead by NFL executives Julie Haddon, senior vice-president of marketing; Dawn Hudson, chief marketing officer; and Troy Vincent, vice-president of football operations


By Dirk Smith



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