A Gay N.F.L. Player Broke a Barrier. Will Others Follow?


Congratulatory posts flooded social media on Monday when Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib introduced on Instagram that he’s homosexual, turning into the primary energetic N.F.L. participant to take action.

Jerseys and T-shirts bearing his identify have been the highest sellers amongst all N.F.L. gamers on Monday, based on Fanatics, the league’s e-commerce associate. Stars like Giants running back Saquon Barkley — who performed with Nassib at Penn State — and Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt shortly voiced their help for Nassib on Twitter. Well-known advocacy organizations praised his declaration as monumental.

“I think people are going to see what I’ve seen for years, that sports are a lot more accepting than people give it credit for,” mentioned Cyd Zeigler, the co-founder of Outsports, a information web site that covers L.G.B.T.Q. athletes and points in sports activities.

Yet Nassib said in his post that he had “agonized” over the choice to go public about his sexuality, after protecting it to himself for 15 years. That he’s the one energetic participant who’s publicly out in one of many 4 main American males’s professional sports activities leagues suggests the peak of the barrier that male athletes face overtly acknowledging a gender or sexual id that doesn’t conform with these historically tolerated in locker rooms.

Other homosexual athletes who’ve gone public with their sexuality have mentioned they felt pressured to suppress it — and should still regardless of currents in society shifting to extra acceptance — for easy but powerfully prohibitive causes. In locker rooms, on fields and on courts, male athletes are taught to embrace heteronormative requirements of masculinity.

“I think it’s men and the machismo culture that pro sports are played, in particular,” that has inhibited males who determine as homosexual, bisexual, or queer from popping out, mentioned Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.

Still, some male athletes ventured to take action regardless of considerations about their security and backlash from teammates and followers. In February 2014, the N.B.A. grew to become the primary of the 4 main American sports activities leagues to have an overtly homosexual energetic participant when Jason Collins, who had come out publicly the earlier spring, joined the Nets. He retired from taking part in later that yr.

Michael Sam, who had been an all-American choice throughout his school profession as a defensive finish at Missouri, introduced that he’s homosexual weeks forward of Collins’s signing, within the lead as much as that yr’s N.F.L. draft. The Rams chosen him within the seventh, and final spherical, and an overjoyed Sam cried and kissed his boyfriend on nationwide TV in probably the most seen shows of homosexual male sexuality within the historical past of sports activities.

But the Rams minimize Sam earlier than the tip of coaching camp. The Dallas Cowboys then signed Sam to their apply squad, however he didn’t play in a common season sport. He retired from soccer in 2015.

Intermittently, a handful of different notable male skilled athletes made bulletins about their sexuality all through the years solely after their sports activities careers had ended. But within the mid-aughts the stream of male former gamers to publicly come out as homosexual quickened, seeming to herald a shift in sporting tradition. Athletes like the previous N.B.A. participant John Amaechi (2007) and retired N.F.L. gamers Wade Davis (2012) and Kwame Harris (2013), publicly introduced that they’re homosexual in memoirs, journal cowl articles and, in Harris’s case, in a CNN interview.

Major League Soccer has had two energetic overtly homosexual gamers — Robbie Rogers, who got here out in 2013, and Collin Martin, who did so in 2018.

In Major League Baseball, Glenn Burke, an outfielder who spent 4 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics within the 1970s, is known as the first player in major league history to return out to his teammates throughout his profession. He got here out publicly in 1982, three years after his final main league sport. Burke, who died of AIDS problems in 1995, was supported by some teammates however was largely met with discrimination.

The momentum for different homosexual male N.F.L. athletes to return out whereas they have been nonetheless taking part in might have dwindled when Sam’s profession fizzled out earlier than it started. Nassib’s announcement might have been extra readily accepted — publicly, a minimum of — amongst his friends as a result of he’s already a reliable veteran.

Nassib has already performed 5 seasons within the N.F.L. and has stored a comparatively low profile at an unglamorous, however vital, place. Drafted by the Cleveland Browns, he has appeared in 73 video games, beginning in 37 of them whereas recording 143 tackles.

Being labeled a “distraction” has lengthy been a stigma assigned to gamers who espoused any view or id that stood out from their teammates, however there’s an upside to Nassib’s elevated fame, Zeigler mentioned. His visibility might provide extra possibilities to debate subjects surrounding L.G.B.T.Q. athletes.

“Tons of people are going to be talking about this over the next couple of days, then again when he shows up for his first game and then again when he intercepts the ball and runs it back for a touchdown,” Zeigler mentioned. “Teams and players can handle a couple of extra cameras. This will be here for a while.”

Men’s professional groups in America have lagged behind girls’s, the place L.G.B.T.Q. stars in staff and particular person sports activities have publicly recognized themselves and nonetheless been celebrated. W.N.B.A. stars Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne are among the many league’s present gamers who’ve come out as lesbian and Layshia Clarendon, who overtly identifies as transgender and nonbinary, in January grew to become the league’s first participant to have a high surgical procedure whereas energetic.

The outspoken United States Women’s National Team soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who’s engaged to the W.N.B.A’s Sue Bird, mentioned after a Women’s World Cup match in 2019 that “you can’t win a championship without gays on your team.” That yr’s World Cup included greater than three dozen gamers and coaches who’re homosexual, actually, and the successful United States staff had a minimum of one couple amongst its members.

In the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the highest-caliber combined martial arts promotion, the perfect feminine fighter of all time, Amanda Nunes, is an out lesbian.

In distinction to L.G.B.T.Q. male athletes, their out friends in girls’s American sports activities leagues have loved extra acceptance from the general public and from their heterosexual teammates in recent times. Rapinoe and Bird are among the many hottest and marketable feminine athletes on the earth. In Nunes’s final battle in March, she introduced her toddler youngster and fiancée contained in the octagon after defeating her opponent.

According to Taylor Carr, chief of workers at Athlete Ally, an advocacy group for L.G.B.T.Q. athletes, that might owe to a better sense of camaraderie in girls’s sports activities introduced on by different collective social fights. Female athletes have for many years fought for equal pay, and the W.N.B.A. prominently led in lots of social justice causes, together with a profitable marketing campaign by Atlanta Dream gamers to oust the staff’s proprietor, the Republican former senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, after she opposed the Black Lives Matter motion the league’s groups have been supporting.

“When you have all of these people in women’s athletics who are sending very clear signals about what they believe, it makes you feel like ‘I have the ability to compete and live as my personal self,’” Carr mentioned. ‘“I am not just an athlete, I can bring my entire self to the court.”

There are signs of Americans’ rising acceptance of L.G.B.T.Q. folks, a cultural shift which will encourage different homosexual, bisexual and queer male athletes to return out publicly. Seventy % of respondents in a Gallup ballot carried out this yr mentioned they help same-sex marriage, a 10 % leap from 2015 when the Supreme Court dominated that every one states should acknowledge these unions. Nearly 6 % of respondents in a 2020 Gallup ballot recognized as L.G.B.T.Q., a 1 % leap from 2017.

It might take longer for that sea change to erode homophobic attitudes in male sports activities leagues, notably the N.F.L. Players have beforehand confronted backlash for offensive feedback, some made within the fast aftermath of a high-profile athlete publicly figuring out as homosexual.

The former Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace posted on Twitter after Collins’s announcement in 2013 that he didn’t perceive why with “all these beautiful women in the world and guys want to mess with other guys.” Wallace later apologized and deleted the publish.

San Francisco operating again Garrison Hearst apologized in 2002 for utilizing a slur and saying he wouldn’t need a homosexual participant as a teammate after the retired Minnesota Vikings participant Esera Tuaolo publicly came out as homosexual that yr. Hearst’s remark elicited public apologies from the 49ers’ staff homeowners and then-head coach Steve Mariucci, however no penalty from the league.

For its half, the N.F.L. has made efforts to publicly help L.G.B.T.Q. inclusivity. The league sponsored a float within the 2018 and 2019 New York City Pride Parades, participated in promotional efforts throughout Pride Month in June like altering official social media avatars to incorporate rainbows, and supported the You Can Play Project, which supplies assets to encourage inclusivity in youth sports activities.

Troy Vincent, the manager vice chairman of soccer operations, wrote an essay final yr wherein he argued that the N.F.L. was able to welcome its first overtly homosexual participant. The league’s official social media accounts, together with the Raiders’, responded to Nassib’s video with coronary heart icons.

Lapchick, who has studied gender and hiring practices in main sports activities leagues for over 25 years, famous soccer’s altering cultural panorama. “If you told me five years ago that the N.F.L. and individual teams would use hearts in their communications, I wouldn’t have guessed that,” he mentioned. “Especially among men, there was a fear of coming out, and he broke that fear. I think the reaction will show other N.F.L. players that they can do this, too.”

Andrew Das and James Wagner contributed reporting.





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