Social media has lit up since Monday when Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player ever to come out as gay. The 28-year-old, a native of West Chester and a Penn State Nittany Lions alum, announced the news via video on Instagram in the most matter-of-fact manner. He said that he was a private person, not doing it for attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” He posted that he had agonized over the moment to tell his truth for the past 15 years.
While professional sports players coming out is hardly a new phenomenon, they have been few and far between. In many cases, they have already retired or are drafted and were close to making roster. Former NBA center Jason Collins came out in 2013, becoming the first openly gay athlete in any of the four major U.S. sports leagues. Michael Sam, an NFL draftee, came out in 2014. They made headlines — then became historic footnotes. One might consider that progress. But Nassib’s case is different. Here is someone who is arguably at the peak of his career. Moreover, Nassib’s decision is significant, as the gridiron is perhaps the last bastion of modern-day gladiator stages where octane levels of testosterone and machismo rule the day.
I applaud Nassib for his earnestness, which he backed up with a $100,000 donation to the Trevor Project, a nonprofit whose mission is to prevent suicide of LGBTQ youth.
His timing, whether intentional or not, is impeccable. Month-long Pride celebrations culminate this coming weekend, and it is a welcome milestone for such a high-profile personality to break barriers, to reinforce that gay people are indeed present in every segment of society. Even as we in the LGBTQ community have made great strides as a movement — as was the case with the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide this week six years ago — we have also had setbacks, including last week with the same court’s ruling, centered in Philadelphia, whereby LGBTQ foster parents are blocked from adopting through religious agencies because it violates “religious freedoms.”
Like members of my community, I’ll take any victory, big or small. We realize that progress is two steps forward, one step back as we strive for equality and the freedom to love without fear. While Nassib requests privacy as he navigates through his next chapter as an out proud gay man, he deserves to be grand marshal at a future Pride parade for giving us this historic moment.
What has been both surprising, and perhaps not so anymore, is the outpouring of unequivocal support for Nassib from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the league’s coaches, and dozens of his fellow NFL players, even the NFL players union. Supporting sentiments echo from those in other professional sports, not to mention celebrities and the public at large. It has even been reported that Nassib’s No. 94 jersey is now a top seller.
My hope is that by his coming out, more professional athletes, as well as others regardless of their careers or stations in life, will continue to accept their authentic selves and feel secure enough to come out. And that allies will make their support known. Nassib’s coming out will be remembered as a historic moment for the LGBTQ community, but I hope that we soon arrive at a time when a nonheterosexual professional football player is not a big deal, when true equality is achieved.
What Nassib has done is offer hope and encouragement to today’s LGBTQ youth who need positive role models. To reinforce that they are not alone. That it does gets better. That you can be anything you choose to be in life and still be your true self. It may be a process in one’s own time and one’s own terms. Though it all bears repeating. And what a week to do so.
Jobert E. Abueva is a writer and resident of New Hope.