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NFLPA president thinks players need to embrace diversity

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com
Fujita thinks an openly gay player would be welcome in the Browns' locker room. Foxworth calls it a civil rights issue. (Getty)

This week, NFL Players Association president and former player Domonique Foxworth wrote a thoughtful piece in the Huffington Post about the need for the "jocks to embrace diversity." Sixty years ago, diversity would've been a racial question; today, it's about sexual orientation.

“I do believe it's a civil rights issue, and I'm a student of the civil rights era and a collector of civil rights memorabilia," Foxworth said during an appearance on 92.3 in Cleveland (via SportsRadioInterviews.com). … "It just seems like a very obvious step, much like looking back on the '50s and '60s to us today. It's like, ‘Why were they even fighting over those things?' I feel like the same thing's going to happen years from now. People are going to look back and say, ‘When was there a time when openly gay athletes weren't welcomed into the locker room?' It's unfortunate we're not there yet, but I look forward to getting to that point.”

But Foxworth thinks we're close.

"I think we're as ready as we'll ever be," he continued. "I feel that the comments that the 49ers player made, he received a lot of ridicule for it and deservedly so. But I think there's a bit of kind of a tacit homophobia that exists. I don't know if that's the right terminology, but I think guys get uncomfortable using certain language and talking a certain way about a certain group. … I don't believe that if one of his teammates spoke to him today and said he was a homosexual, I highly doubt he would flip and turn.”

Foxworth pointed to the outpouring of support from teammates for former U.S. Soccer Men's National Team member Robbie Rogers when he came out publicly last month. And, like Foxworth, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita thinks NFL locker rooms are ready for an openly gay player.

“It would not be an issue at all [in the Browns' locker room]," Fujita said while appearing on 92.3. …"I think it's important not to be quick on somebody using these inappropriate words like ‘faggot' [and assume] that person [is] being homophobic or discriminatory.

"A lot of times it's just a common part of young men's jargon, and that's the other part of it," Fujita continued. "We have to take this to the next level to eliminate that kind of discussion. Again, just because guys use words like that, a lot of guys don't mean it to be harmful in any way. They don't mean to be prejudice. Many cases, they don't understand what they're saying could be harmful or offensive. In cases like that, I generally tend to take the guy to the side rather than lambaste him publicly 'cause I don't think a lot can come from that. A lot of times it is about educating a guy and letting him know, ‘Hey, a lot of people might be affected by that. You have no idea if the guy in the locker next to you could be affected by that, so why not create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable to be who they are?'”

If more players embrace the stance that Foxworth and Fujita have taken, we'll look back in 20 years on this discussion in the same way that we think about racial diversity in sports in 2013. For now, a lot of work remains (though players like Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe are doing their part).

For example, legally, teams can't ask players about sexual preferences -- even though it apparently happened at last week's NFL Combine. The league plans to investigate ("Like all employers, our teams are expected to follow applicable federal, state and local employment laws," the NFL said in a statement), a move the NFLPA fully supports, a union official tells CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to the Pick-6 Podcast on iTunes. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter here: @ryanwilson_07.

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