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Carl Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib announced June 21 on Instagram that he is gay, making him the first active NFL player to come out. (Video: Reuters)

Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib announced Monday on Instagram that he is gay, making him the first active NFL player to come out.

“What’s up, people? I’m Carl Nassib. I’m at my house here in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” Nassib said in a video message. “I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest.

“I really have the best life. I got the best family, friends and job a guy can ask for. 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.”

Nassib, 28, added he hopes the “coming-out process” is no longer necessary in the future and he will donate $100,000 to the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that aims to prevent suicide among LGBTQ youths.

In a written message that followed the video, Nassib said he “agonized over this moment for the last 15 years” and only recently decided to make a public announcement, thanks to the support of family and friends.

Nassib also thanked the NFL, his coaches and fellow players, some of whom commented on his announcement online. New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, who played with Nassib at Penn State, tweeted, “Much respect brudda.” Recently retired wide receiver Julian Edelman tweeted that it was an “awesome moment,” and former Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall said he’s “extremely proud of Carl.”

“I don’t know Carl,” Hall said while on NFL Network, “but for him to unveil himself to the world the way he did, I mean, it takes courage. It takes so much strength.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement in support of Nassib “for courageously sharing his truth” and said that the league shares his hope that “someday soon statements like his will no longer be newsworthy as we march toward full equality for the LGBTQ+ community.”

The president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Sarah Kate Ellis, also spoke out in support with a statement that declared Nassib’s coming out a “historic reflection of the growing state of LGBTQ visibility and inclusion in the world of professional sports.”

“As an accomplished athlete who is now the first out gay active player in the NFL,” Ellis said, “Carl Nassib’s story will not only have a profound impact on the future of LGBTQ visibility and acceptance in sports, but sends a strong message to so many LGBTQ people, especially youth, that they too can one day grow up to be and succeed as a professional athlete like him.”

Nassib indicated he would decline additional interviews and asked that reporters not take offense but rather afford him some privacy. The line spoke volumes to Wade Davis, a former NFL cornerback who came out publicly in 2012, nearly nine years after he retired.

“What I really appreciated about it was it felt like Carl was saying, ‘I’m an NFL football player who is gay,’ ” Davis told The Washington Post. “He was not saying, ‘I am a gay NFL player,’ which is a very different thing. And his note, ‘If you reach out for interviews and I don’t get back to you,’ also spoke to his level of comfortability in what he was doing.”

Davis said he believes Nassib’s announcement felt like a continuation of a broader discussion among professional athletes that extends to social justice, race, gender and sexual orientation. The conversations are connected, he says, but Nassib’s revelation is still a seminal moment.

“It is still somewhat novel to have a player, specifically a male in the big five sports, to come out,” said Davis, who was the NFL’s first LGBT inclusion consultant in 2012. “But for me, I think the level of sophistication that players will be able to talk about this will be the indicator about how far we’ve come. And not just players, but also coaches. ... All of us have a responsibility to be better to push the conversation in a more holistic way.”

The 6-foot-7 Nassib won the 2015 Lombardi Award, given to the nation’s best college lineman or linebacker, during his lone season as a starter at Penn State.

The Cleveland Browns selected him in the third round of the 2016 draft and, after two seasons in Cleveland, he was claimed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with whom he played another two seasons and totaled 12.5 sacks. Nassib signed a three-year deal with the Raiders in March 2020 and last year started five of the 14 games he played.

While Nassib would become the first openly gay player to play in an NFL game, he is not the first high-level football player or active professional athlete to come out.

In 2013, Major League Soccer player Robbie Rogers revealed he is gay, and later that year NBA center Jason Collins did as well. Collins, a former first-round pick, became the first active player in one of the four major American professional sports to come out, doing so in a cover story for Sports Illustrated. Collins became a free agent months later and waited a full season before getting another contract, with the Brooklyn Nets. He retired in 2014.

Also in 2014 — and shortly before he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams — Missouri defensive end Michael Sam publicly announced he is gay. Sam did not play an NFL snap — he was cut by the Rams before the start of his rookie season and was on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad for a month — but he became the first openly gay player in the Canadian Football League, with the Montreal Alouettes in 2015.

Sam announced in June of that year that he was stepping away from professional football for mental health reasons.

“Here’s the truth: Everyone owes Michael Sam such a bit of gratitude,” Davis said. “Michael Sam did something that very few people do. They gave up something, which is potentially his entire career in the NFL, for something greater. Very few of us are willing to do that, and it’s why I hope that people, when they tell the story of Carl — which, he deserves his own singular story — but when you think about the ‘Carl and’ story, Michael Sam’s name should be mentioned first.”

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