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NFL player Carl Nassib made history by coming out, then led his team to victory

Photo: Erik Drost

This profile is part of Queerty’s 2021 Out For Good series, recognizing public figures who’ve had the courage to come out and make a difference in the past year, in celebration of National Coming Out Day on October 11.

Name: Carl Nassib, 28

Bio: Nassib grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania, 35 miles west of Philadelphia. As a high schooler, he quickly showed enormous aptitude in athletics, lettering in football, basketball, and track and field. His next stop was Pennsylvania State University, where he made it onto the football team as a walk-on; he didn’t see any actual game time until his Sophomore year.

By his senior year he was a starting player, and was named a unanimous All-American and the Big Ten’s Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year for 2015, among other prestigious accolades. Post-college, Nassib was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2016, then moved to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018. While playing for the Bucs, he set career highs in both sacks and tackles for loss. In 2020 he signed a three-year deal with the Las Vegas Raiders.

In the Raiders’ 2021 season opener, Nassib forced a fumble during overtime that allowed his team to claim victory. Even more significant, Nassib made history that day as the first out, active NFL player.

Coming Out: During Pride Month on June 21, 2021, three months before the start of the football season, Nassib came out as gay in an Instagram video post. “I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” he said. “I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable getting it off my chest. I really have the best life, I have the best family, friends and job a guy can ask for.”

He noted, “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. I actually hope that one day, videos like this and the whole coming out process are just not necessary, but until then I will do my best and my part to cultivate a culture that’s accepting and compassionate.” Nassib also announced a $100,000 donation to The Trevor Project to mark the occasion.

In a connected written statement, he added, “Right now, I am sitting in a moment of gratitude and relief. Sadly, I have agonized over this moment for the last 15 years. Only until recently, thanks to my family and friends… did it seem possible for me to say publicly and proudly that I’m gay.

“I stand on the shoulders of giants, incredible people who paved the way for me to have this opportunity. I do not know all the history behind our courageous LGBTQ community, but I am eager to learn and to help continue the fight for equality and acceptance.”

Nassib remains the only out athlete to play in the main season of the country’s four major men’s sports — football, basketball, baseball and hockey.

Chosen Family: Nassib may be the first active, out male player, but he will hardly be the last. In fact, 19-year-old Luke Prokop will soon become the second when hockey season starts in October. And speaking of those “shoulders of giants” Nassib stands on, he’s joined a courageous group who’ve decided there’s more value in facing the stigma of being a queer athlete and living truthfully than remaining in the closet. That includes NFL hopeful Michael Sam, who came out in 2014 and made history when he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams; he never actually went on to make the roster.

From tennis star Billie Jean King being outed as a lesbian in 1981 and defying her publicists’ advice to deny it, to late ’70s baseball player Glenn Burke whose teammates on the LA Dodgers all knew he was gay — Burke later come out publicly in 1982 and died of AIDS at 45 years old — Nassib is tied to a legacy of queer athletes who’ve each contributed to making the world safer and more welcoming for others to follow.

King, for instance, lost all of her endorsements within 24 hours of being outed. Now, openly LGBTQ athletes like soccer star Megan Rapinoe, Olympic gold medal-winning British diver Tom Daley, and WNBA player Breanna Stewart have all inked major deals. And hefty corporate checks aside, the prominence of these and scores of other former and current queer athletes sends a clear signal to players and fans alike that it’s time to dispel the stigma for good.