Why it’s so important for athletes like Carl Nassib to come out of the closet

Carl Nassib during warmups before a game against the Denver Broncos at Allegiant Stadium on November 15, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) (Ethan Miller, 2020 Getty Images)

Las Vegas Raiders football player Carl Nassib made history Monday when he became the first active NFL player to come out of the closet.

Nassib, 28, made the announcement on his Instagram, saying “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’ve got the best family, friends and job a guy could ask for.”

A few NFL players have come out of the closet after they retired, but this marks the first time that a player who is in the league has done so, and it’s a monumental moment in not only LGBTQ+ history, but in sports history, as well.

In addition to coming out of the closet, Nassib also pledged to donate a whopping $100,000 to The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that helps at-risk LGBTQ youth with suicide prevention and crisis intervention. It was a huge gesture, and honestly, something that he didn’t even have to do. He could have just come out, but the donation and added awareness to The Trevor Project were bonuses.

Nassib went on to say, “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 just not necessary,” which may have been the most important thing he said.

At the end of the day, representation does matter.

Right now, there is a teenage boy who likes sports and probably knows that he is gay, but he doesn’t see any famous professional athletes like him. Now, he can look up to someone like Nassib and see himself.

As for Nassib, here is a guy who is playing at the highest level in professional sports, and in one of the most male-dominated sports, at that. He is comfortable in his own skin, and can now be an inspiration to LGBTQ youth who may not have thought they could be their most authentic selves and succeed in sports. Not only that, but this could open the floodgates for other gay men in sports who haven’t felt comfortable coming out while playing professionally.

When it comes to female athletes, it’s a bit of a different situation. For the past 10 years or so, athletes like Billie Jean King, Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach, Sue Bird and countless others have done so, and the love and support they’ve received from fans has been endless.

Just this past weekend, track and field superstar Sha’Carri Richardson won the 100-meter dash at the Olympic qualifiers, and casually revealed to the press that her girlfriend picked her hair color for the trials. She later posted a rainbow emoji on Twitter, further making people on the internet even more obsessed with her.

This is the kind of thing that Nassib was talking about in his statement. Richardson didn’t have to put out a big statement and make a fuss of it. She has a girlfriend, and that’s that.

Nassib received a ton of support from those involved in professional sports, including a statement from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, saying the league “is proud of Carl for courageously sharing his truth today.”

He added, “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.”

Nassib has support from the league, but that doesn’t mean he will have an easy road ahead of him.

Out professional soccer player Collin Martin experienced homophobia just last year during a game. A player from the opposing squad used a slur against Martin, and Martin’s team ended up walking off the field and forfeiting the game in protest because the player who used the slur wasn’t taken off the field by his coach or the refs.

That’s not saying that something like this will happen to Nassib, but it’s worth noting that discrimination happens in sports, and it’s the reason that so many male athletes have not come out of the closet yet.

Hopefully, Nassib’s announcement is just another step toward progress, and will help dismantle the homophobia and transphobia that still exist in the world. The more people who may think they’re different and feel comfortable in saying so, the easier it will become for others to follow suit.

Nassib will go down in history as the first active NFL player to come out as gay, but his legacy will inspire others to live their most authentic lives.

About the Author:

Jack is a Digital Content Editor with a degree in creative writing and French from Western Michigan University. He specializes in writing about movies, food and the latest TV shows.