Carl Nassib Becomes the First Active Gay NFL Player

By Liam Wirsansky on June 25, 2021

History was made earlier this week on Monday, when current Las Vegas Raiders’ Defensive Lineman, Carl Nassib, publicly came out as gay in a video shared on his Instagram page and becoming the first active player in NFL history to have publicly come out.  In a true moment of visibility during the midst of pride month, Nassib hopes that his action can be an inspiration to others to lead a shifted movement towards a more inclusive attitude in the National Football League, as well as in the broader realm of professional sports.

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Not only did Nassib pledge $100,000 to the Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis and suicide prevention services to the LGBTQ+ community, but encouraged others to do the same, as the NFL reciprocated and matched his donation with the same monetary amount. It has been clear that the support for Nassib has been huge and momentous, with his NFL jersey as the top seller on the Fanatics online officially licensed sports apparel store since his announcement, as well as public announcements and statements in support of him from polarizing public figures, such as President Joe Biden, his teammates and players from around the league, as well as the Las Vegas Raiders organization.

While Nassib was not necessarily the first NFL player to publicly come out, his story and the reaction it has been getting has made it unique and individual in its own right. In 2014, Michael Sam became a the first openly gay athlete to be drafted into the NFL. Already a pioneer for change and truthful representation to his own pedigree, his announcement felt important and awe inspiring, as he vulnerably displayed his true identity fearlessly, crying and kissing his boyfriend on national TV after being drafted. In one of the most visible displays of the gay male sexuality in the history of sports, Sam was just being himself, overjoyed that who he was had not stopped him, an all-American during his college career as a defensive end at Missouri, from fulfilling his dream of playing in the NFL. That dream was short lived however, after the Rams cut Sam before the end of training camp. After a brief stint with the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad in which he did not play in a regular season game, Sam retired from the NFL in 2015, joining the ranks of the only other NFL players to have publicly come out, facing similar challenges of recognition and pressure that so many other gay and non-hetero conforming athletes feel to suppress their sexuality.

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And despite social progress and current waves in society shifting to more acceptance, representation, and inclusivity, the atmosphere surrounding sports has been bred in a toxically masculine mold filled with expectations and standards set by sometimes outdated expectations and behavior by the people that are closest to those players. Teammates, coaches, owners, staff, and even fans often encourage male athletes to embrace heteronormative standards of masculinity implicitly in many cases based on the culture and importance that sports has in the lives of so many. In a genuine and true natured manner Nassib speaks on the matter of wanting to come out for fifteen years and hoping that “one day videos like this and the whole coming out process are just not necessary” in his message on Instagram. To many who may not have even realized it, the easy-going tone that Nassib made his historic announcement under truly made a lasting impact. Jim Buzinski, a co-founder of the sports news site Outsports shared his thoughts on the matter, stating ”There wasn’t a coordinated media campaign. He just looked like he was in his backyard recording, you know, a video for his friends. And so I thought that that really gave it really power.”

Like many other corporate organizations, the NFL has made efforts to publicly support L.G.B.T.Q. inclusivity with several media campaigns, sponsorships, and even supporting a float in the 2018 and 2019 New York City Pride Parades, yet have somehow still missed the mark in being able to provides the necessary resources to encourage comfortable visibility and inclusivity within its own league of players. Nassib’s announcement and the momentous support behind him is unlike anything the league has seen before and may prove that the league and the sports world more broadly is willing to openly accept gay male athletes as the people they and not “distractions”. With a cultural shift as large as this one, the only true test will be time and if that support remains when others speak their truth.

Carl Nassib’s Instagram Video Message: Carl Nassib on Instagram: “For more information on the life-saving work and resources of The Trevor Project click the link in my bio ??????????”

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