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Carl Nassib, NFL’s first openly gay active player, set to rejoin Bucs

“He has a lot of versatility, he brings a lot of energy, brings a lot of toughness and he understands the system,” Tampa Bay Coach Todd Bowles said of Carl Nassib, shown in 2019. (Will Vragovic/Getty Images)

Buccaneers Coach Todd Bowles appeared to confirm multiple reports that Tampa Bay was signing Carl Nassib, a free agent defensive end who is the NFL’s first openly gay active player.

“We look forward to him coming here,” Bowles said of Nassib to reporters Tuesday.

Nassib previously played for the Buccaneers in 2018 and 2019. He then signed in free agency with the Las Vegas Raiders and was a member of that organization in June 2021, when he made history by coming out.

“I’m a pretty private person,” Nassib said then in a video he shared online, “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.”

Several NFL players saluted him at the time, as did league officials and advocates for LGBTQ issues. In a message to Nassib and Kumi Yokoyama, a National Women’s Soccer League player who came out as a transgender man, President Biden wrote: “I’m so proud of your courage. Because of you, countless kids around the world are seeing themselves in a new light today.”

“LGBTQI+ visibility and representation can be lifesaving,” said Joanna Hoffman, the director of communications for Athlete Ally, an organization that aims to end homophobia and transphobia in sports. “It’s especially meaningful in the NFL, where athletes have tremendous power to inspire teammates and fans towards allyship, and to show LGBTQI+ youth that they aren’t alone.

“Seeing Carl Nassib as an active NFL player and an out gay man,” Hoffman continued in a statement provided Wednesday, “is not just historic — it’s also a beacon for youth across the country who want to see that they can be exactly who they are and live their dreams.”

Another defensive end, Michael Sam, had blazed a trail by coming out before the 2014 NFL draft. He was subsequently selected in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams but released before the start of the season and never played a regular season snap in the NFL. Sam then became the first openly gay player in the Canadian Football League when he took the field in August 2015 for the Montreal Alouettes.

Nassib said this summer that he had some trepidation about taking the step of sharing his video last year.

“I stared at the phone for, like, an hour just looking at it, trying to hype myself up,” the 29-year-old Pennsylvania native told “Good Morning America” correspondent Michael Strahan, a former NFL star, in July. “The last thing I said was, ‘You know what — for the kids.’ And I pressed post.”

Nassib added that, having come out to his friends and family years before, he decided to make it public last year to “own the story and make sure I did it on my terms.”

By the time Nassib made those comments last month, he had been released by the Raiders, following a two-year stint that coincided with a turbulent period for Las Vegas. Head coach Jon Gruden stepped down in October 2021 after the revelation of emails he had sent that included racist, misogynistic and homophobic language.

In the wake of the Gruden scandal, Nassib was excused from team activities to take a personal day.

“He just said he’s got a lot to process,” then-general manager Mike Mayock said of Nassib at the time. “There’s a lot that’s been going on the last few days. And, of course, we support that.”

Gruden was replaced on an interim basis by Rich Bisaccia before Josh McDaniels was hired in January to be the team’s new head coach. At the same time, the Raiders brought aboard a new general manager, Dave Ziegler, after they fired Mayock earlier in the month.

Now Nassib is set to reunite with General Manager Jason Licht, who has held that position for the Buccaneers since 2014, and Bowles, who was the team’s defensive coordinator for three years before replacing former head coach Bruce Arians in March.

After starting his NFL journey with the Cleveland Browns, with whom he spent two seasons, Nassib enjoyed some of his most productive moments with the Buccaneers. Of his 22 career sacks, 12.5 came in a Tampa Bay uniform, as did 25 of his 53 quarterback hits.

Bowles praised Nassib on Tuesday as a sturdy run defender who can also be deployed in different ways in the coach’s scheme.

“He’s a very good pass rusher on the outside, and he can also play inside in some nickel situations,” Bowles told reporters. “He has a lot of versatility, he brings a lot of energy, brings a lot of toughness and he understands the system. He was comfortable in it [in his previous stint].”

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