Pro sports have struggled with inclusion. Carl Nassib’s coming out can change that and more.

Carl Nassib playing for the Cleveland Browns during a game in 2018.
Photo: Erik Drost

I vividly remember where I was on April 30th, 2013, when the news broke that veteran basketball player Jason Collins had come out as gay, becoming the first active member of a major American sports team to do so. About a year later, Michael Sam also disclosed his sexuality and became the first openly gay man to be drafted by the NFL.

Both of these men made history with their announcements, and many celebrated their strength and courage. It is interesting, however, looking back now with 7 or eight years of hindsight, to think, in addition to the celebration, of how much controversy their announcements provoked.

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I’m sure that many in the LGBTQ community will never forget the moment when Michael Sam, upon learning that he was being drafted by the St. Louis Rams, emotionally kissed his boyfriend on live television. ESPN was quickly engulfed in the drama of many who felt it was inappropriate for them to show the tender moment, something that to us gay people, seemed so innocent and romantic, but to others, it was considered abhorrent and even immoral.

I couldn’t help but think of that chain of events when last week another NFL player made the brave choice to be honest with the public, this time Carl Nassib of the Las Vegas Raiders who became the first active football player to be openly gay. (Sam did not get to play in a regular season game.)

Nassib posted a brief video to Instagram, which was striking in it’s simplicity. He didn’t use flowery language — he just expressed the truth of who he was, and then asked those watching to join him in donating to The Trevor Project, an organization that is focused on preventing the suicide of LGBTQ youth.

That Nassib chose to make that non-profit a part of his message was a reminder of how being different is still not accepted in many parts of this country, to the point where many still contemplate and in some cases actually act on taking their own lives.

As Nassib said himself, LGBTQ people are still five times as likely to attempt suicide compared to our cisgender or hetrosexual counterparts.

Nassib’s announcement will play a big role in helping to change that. There is perhaps nothing that represents and symbolizes heteronormative masculinity in American culture than football, so to have someone break that traditional norm by bringing their authentic selves to the field is truly groundbreaking.

The NFL quickly came out and lauded Nassib, as did many other prominent athletes, and President Joe Biden himself.

But to read the comments on Nassib’s post is proof of how much work there still needs to be done. While most of the feedback seemed positive, there was undoubtedly a segment of commenters who questioned the need for such a coming out announcement, and some that were outright, blatantly homophobic.

Hopefully Nassib’s courageous visibility going forward will play a big influence in helping to change those very attitudes. I’m confident that they will.

Thank you Carl, Michael, Jason and all those who came before you for paving the way.

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