Recently, Eric Schneiderman, the New York State Attorney General expressed concern about the way the Atlanta Falcons handled its interview process with Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple, a projected top-round pick in the 2016 draft. Schneiderman sent a letter to the the NFL's head of human resources, Robert Gullver, according to the New York Times, and asked what the league was doing to eliminate sexual orientation discrimination.
Employment discrimination is illegal and the NFL's headquarters are located in New York, which explains why the New York State Attorney General is involved in the matter. Of concern to were questions about Eli Apple's sexual orientation. Apple claimed that Falcon's assistant coach Marquand Manuel asked, "Do you like men?" The Falcons have released an apology, but the incident does not appear to be isolated. Other players have reported being asked about their sexual orientation, a practice that violates the league's anti-discrimination policy.
That same year, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell was also asked about his sexual orientation. Bell stated at the time, via SportingNews.com, that he thought the questions were "weird." After similar concerns were raised by prospect Nick Kasa in 2013, then NFL spokesman Greg Aiello explained via NFL.com:
"Like all employers, our teams are expected to follow applicable federal, state and local employment law. It is league policy to neither consider nor inquire about sexual orientation in the hiring process.
In addition, 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. We will look into the report on the questioning of Nick Kasa at the Scouting Combine. Any team or employee that inquires about impermissible subjects or makes an employment decision based on such factors is subject to league discipline."
In 2013, the director of the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice Smith, also addressed the problem, saying via ESPN:
"I know that the NFL agrees that these types of questions violate the law, our CBA and player rights," Smith said. "I hope that they will seek out information as to what teams have engaged in this type of discrimination and we should then discuss appropriate discipline."
Schneiderman sent a letter to the NFL in 2013, reminding the league of New York State's employment discrimination laws. He wrote, "From the Scouting Combine to the playing fields, everyone deserves equal protection under the law and the right to a fair workplace."
When players violate league rules, they face fines and suspension. Either the NFL does not take seriously discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or the league perpetuates a culture of homophobia and bigotry that normalizes questions like the ones asked by the Falcons coaching staff.
Currently there are no openly gay players in the NFL, though in 2014 Missouri defensive end Michael Sam generated coverage as the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL.