By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)
This week certainly has been a big week for LGBTQIA+ athletes. From the rainbows at the UEFA Euro Cup, Laurel Hubbard becoming the first transgender athlete to make an Olympic team, Kumi Yokoyama become the first professional soccer player to come out as transgender, Sha’Carri Richardson setting a world record and making her first Olympic team and openly sharing that moment with her girlfriend and of course, Carl Nassib becoming the NFL’s first active player to come out as openly gay.
There has been some confusion over Carl Nassib coming out as openly gay, because seven years ago, Michael Sam became the NFL’s first openly gay athlete. However, while Michael Sam was drafted by an NFL team after coming out, he only played as far as the practice squad for his team before he signed with a Canadian Football League team, the Montreal Allouettes. Once Sam played his first game with the Allouettes he officially became the first openly gay professional football player. Whereas Carl Nassib is on an active roster for his NFL team which puts him directly into the game and thus, making him the NFL’s first openly gay player. It has been speculated that Michael Sam’s active roster spot may have been denied due to the media attention surrounding him being openly gay during the draft, but it is also important to point out that, as a 7th round draft pick, the odds of Michael Sam getting an active roster spot are about 30-35% based on the previous drafts. Sam’s first season with the Allouettes saw one in season game before Sam decided to take a step back from the game for his own mental health. Those concerns regarding Sam’s mental health have been from the burden and attention put onto him as the first openly gay professional football player. With so much pressure to perform, not making the NFL active roster and other issues, including racist and homophobic abuse, that a black, openly gay professional athlete will face. It certainly took its toll.
Many people hoped that Michael Sam’s coming out would open a proverbial floodgate of professional athletes coming out, but it likely had the opposite. In that now, seven years later, another NFL athlete has dared to attempt it while still on an active roster. Many NFL athletes have come out in the past, well after their retirement from the game when the risk is low. So what sets Carl Nassib’s coming out apart is that he is still an active athlete for the Las Vegas Raiders. Unlike Sam’s experience, Nassib’s is so far being met with more positive support from the Las Vegas Raiders and the NFL itself.
In a very non-chalant post on Instagram, Nassib made his announcement and included a $100,000 donation to The Trevor Project that supports mental health services and suicide prevention programs for LGBTQIA+ youth.
“I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” the 28-year-old defensive end said on Instagram. “I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, but finally feel comfortable getting it off my chest. I really have the best life, 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 not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that one day, videos like this and the whole coming out process are not necessary, but until then I will do my best and my part to cultivate a culture that’s accepting and compassionate and I’m going to start by donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project. They’re an incredible organization, they’re the number one suicide-prevention service for LGBTQ youth in America.”
Shortly after his announcement, the NFL announced it would match Nassib’s donation to the organization. Nassib has also received statements of support from the Raider’s coach, John Gruden, NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell and several of his teammates, including the Raiders’ quarterback, Derek Carr.
“I have often said I love my teammates,” Carr told reporters. “I mean it. We always say we are a family in that Raider locker room, and we mean that. I want to win a championship here with Carl and the rest of our teammates.”
It is certainly a vast contrast to Michael Sam’s experience, and we have yet to see how or if it will impact Nassib’s career and how much the NFL has learned and prepared for this inevitable moment ever since Michael Sam in 2014. Michael Sam himself made sure to thank Nassib for “owning your truth.” Without Michael Sam, it’s highly likely that Nassib’s initial experience this week would be very different.