Really, the fact that Las Vegas Raiders defender and Philadelphia-area native Carl Nassib came out as gay this week shouldn’t really be that big a deal.
“I actually hope that one day, videos like this and the whole coming-out process are not necessary, but until then I will do my best and my part to cultivate a culture that’s accepting and compassionate,” Nassib said in a video filmed from his home in West Chester.
Unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet. States had bans on gay marriage as recently as 2015, until they were struck down by the Supreme Court. In at least 20 states it’s still legal to fire an employee over their sexual preference, according to the Movement Advancement Project, which tracks legislation.
It says something that it took until the year 2021 for the NFL to have its first active gay player, a sign that the macho tough guy mentality associated with the league for so many years (as experienced by countless female reporters) still exists in some form today. Fortunately, unlike the ostracism former college star Dave Kopay said he received after coming out as gay back in 1975, a handful of NFL players did publicly greet Nassib’s announcement with praise and support.
“Much respect brudda,” wrote New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, a former Penn State teammate of Nassib. Arizona Cardinals defender J.J. Watt also congratulated Nassib, adding that “hopefully someday these types of announcements will no longer be considered breaking news.”
But Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina hit the nail on the head — outside a handful of current NFL players, the response to Nassib’s announcement across the league seemed quite underwhelming. Yes, both the NFL and the Raiders issued statements, and commissioner Roger Goodell made sure to say nice things you’d expect from any executive in the 21st century.
Tom Brady spends practically every day on social media, but he couldn’t manage a retweet? Nothing from NFL stars such as Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Patrick Mahomes? No one loves performative social media, but a simply fist bump emoji from more of the league’s top players might have said something powerful about the direction of the league and of acceptance across sports.
Especially when you still have clowns like Jason Whitlock, whose latest ridiculous take was that Nassib — who specifically said he was a private person not doing this for attention — did it not only for the attention, but to also (and I’m not kidding) increase his chances of moving up the depth chart or securing a roster spot.
I’m sorry, but do we not remember what happened to Michael Sam, the star college defender who never ended up playing a down in the NFL after coming out as gay in 2014? Does Whitlock forget how much Sam was mocked and ridiculed after kissing his boyfriend on national television? That prominent NFL figures, such as Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, said they wouldn’t have drafted him because of the distraction his gayness would cause?
Sam was ultimately drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round, but cut prior to the start of the season. A year later, he was out of football entirely.
“LBGTQ people are more likely to commit suicide than heterosexuals, I hope and pray people will take note to this,” Sam wrote on Twitter following Nassib’s announcement. “Thank you again Carl and look forward to seeing you play on the field.”
So Nassib’s announcement is important. It shouldn’t be, but it is. He said himself that studies show one accepting adult can “decrease the risk of an LGBTQ kid attempting suicide by 40%.” I just wish more NFL stars had been willing to help spread that message.
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