July 9, 2021
The National Football League (N.F.L.) has been around for 100 years but it wasn’t until recently that an active player—Carl Nassib, of the Las Vegas Raiders—came out as gay.
During Pride Month a couple of weeks ago, the defensive end from Pennsylvania posted a video on Instagram announcing that he is gay. He later released a statement where he talks about how he struggled with coming out for years, and thanks his family, friends, teammates and coaches for supporting him. Nassib also announced that he was donating $100,000 to The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization that focuses on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth. “They’re truly doing incredible things and I’m very excited to be a part of it,” he says.
Not the First
Nassib isn’t the first N.F.L. player to come out as gay. Michael Sam came out prior to being drafted in 2014. David Kopay played in the N.F.L. in the 1960s and ‘70s and came out after his retirement. So, what makes Nassib’s coming out special?
Again, Nassib is the first player to come out while actively playing in the N.F.L. It’s also unique because the public’s response has generally been supportive. The N.F.L. and the Raiders have also shown their support on social media.
This has not always been the case. The N.F.L. has historically been hypermasculine and heteronormative—it’s not what most would call an easy environment to come out as gay in. Sam received backlash from the media and other N.F.L. players after coming out. Kopay has said in interviews that it was hard to fit in as a gay football player and felt he often had to hide his sexual orientation. So, Nassib’s coming out is a historic moment for the N.F.L.
An Important Example for Young LGBTQ Athletes
It’s also a historic moment for LGBTQ people. So many young LGBTQ athletes refrain from joining sports teams because they fear how many opportunities they’ll get, how coaches and teammates will treat them and what others’ responses will be. Hopefully Nassib’s coming out sets an important precedent and creates a culture that is more accepting for queer-identified players to be themselves.
Nassib also set an example for young LGBTQ people overall. “I just think representation and visibility are important,” he says in his video. In an accompanying written statement, he says, “Young LGBTQ kids are five times more likely than their straight friends to consider suicide. All it takes is one accepting adult to decrease the risk of a LGBTQ kid attempting suicide by 40%.” Indeed, having visible LGBTQ adults can only help the young people watching them.
Carl Nassib’s coming out will definitely be recorded as a “win.”
Check out Athlete Ally for more about support for LGBTQ athletes!