Carl Nassib’s decision to come out as gay, the first time an active NFL player has chosen to do so, was welcomed across the league from coaches and teams to some of the biggest names in the sport.
It is hardly a secret that gay players have always existed in the NFL, but a fear of a backlash from fans, teammates and their employers stopped them from doing so. Now times appear to be slowly changing.
Among the first to show their support for Nassib was his team, the Las Vegas Raiders, and their coach Jon Gruden. “I learned a long time ago what makes a man different is what makes him great,” Gruden told ESPN. The team’s official account tweeted a screenshot of Nassib’s statement along with the message: “Proud of you Carl.”
The NFL spoke of its respect for Nassib in a statement. “The NFL family is proud of Carl for courageously sharing his truth today,” the statement read. “Representation matters. We share his hope that someday soon statements like his will no longer be newsworthy as we march toward full equality for the LGBTQ+ community. We wish Carl the best of luck this coming season.”
Players from other teams spoke about the significance of Nassib’s statement. “Good for you Carl,” wrote three-time defensive player of the year JJ Watt on Twitter. “Glad you feel comfortable enough to share and hopefully someday these types of announcements will no longer be considered breaking news.”
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, who played alongside Nassib in college at Penn State, tweeted: “Proud of you, brudda”. Nassib’s coach at Penn State, James Franklin, said his respect for the player had only increased. “Carl’s brave announcement will forge a path for others to be true to their authentic self,” he said. “I was proud of Carl when he led the nation in sacks, but I’m even more proud of him now.”
Nassib chose to donate $100,000 to the Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention services to LGBTQ people, as part of his announcement. That decision was hailed by former New England Patriots star Julian Edelman. “Awesome moment. Spreading the love to the @TrevorProject very classy move,” he wrote.
Carl’s brother, Ryan, also played in the NFL, spending four seasons with the Giants. “Couldn’t be more proud to be your brother. Love you Carl,” he wrote on Instagram.
Former players also chose to hail Nassib’s announcement. Hall of fame quarterback Warren Moon acknowledged that gay players had long contributed to the NFL.
“Really proud of Carl Nassib. The first active football player to ever do so. I played with several guys who never were comfortable enough to go public. They were great teammates, & obviously very talented,” wrote Moon on Twitter. “As long as they helped us win and were great teammates- their sexual preference was never a issue… We live in a different time now where diversity is much more accepted. Cheers Carl, and I hope this lets other athletes know, its OK to say who you are…”
There was also support from the wider sports world. “The ability to live an authentic life is so important,” wrote Billie Jean King, a long-time advocate for LGBTQ rights. “Sending love and support to Carl Nassib of the @Raiders, who has bravely made history as the 1st active NFL player to come out. He has also donated $100K to @TrevorProject.”
Nassib, a 28-year-old defensive end, joined the league in 2016 and has also played for the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He made Monday’s announcement in a video posted to social media.
“I’m at my house here in West Chester, Pennsylvania,” said Nassib, a defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders. “I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now but finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest. I really have the best life, I’ve got the best family, friends and job a guy can ask for,” he said.
“I’m a pretty private person so I hope you guys know that I’m really not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that like one day, videos like this and the whole coming out process are not necessary, but until then I am gonna do my best and do my part to cultivate a culture that’s accepting that’s compassionate.”
Other NFL players have come out, but not during their playing days. Michael Sam came out before being drafted into the league in 2014, but never played a regular season NFL game. Roy Simmons, who played for the Giants and Washington in the 1980s, was one of a number of players to come out after retiring. He told the New York Times in 2003 that he did not feel safe announcing that he was gay while he was in the NFL.
“The NFL has a reputation,” he said at the time, “and it’s not even a verbal thing – it’s just known. You are gladiators; you are male; you kick butt.”