The NFL has seen its share of players making history in different aspects, from trophy wins to personal records, but Carl Nassib’s case is as different as it is inspiring.
On Monday, the Las Vegas Raiders defensive end became the first active player in the league’s history to openly come out, announcing that he’s gay, via a post on Instagram. He even pledged $100,000 to The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization created to support LGBTQ youth.
Point to be noted, Nassib is not the first NFL player to come out as homosexual. In the past, six other players have announced that they were gay, but only after they retired from the sport. On the other hand, Philadelphia Liberty Belles player Alissa Wykes of the National Women’s Football Association (NWFA) had come out as a lesbian all the way back in 2001.
So how does Nassib, being the first male, active player in the league announcing his sexuality change the future for his similars?
The masculine environment in the NFL, and how Carl Nassib set an example
Being a powerful, body contact sport that is world renowned for its violent nature and the physical strength it requires to shine in it, pro football has generally been viewed as a masculine sport, from the macho environment to the media’s hypermasculine angle at the biggest sports league in the world.
On top of that, there has been a dominance of heterosexuality in the locker rooms, to the vehement use of homophobic slurs as well as the prominence of pornographic content and frequent strip club visits by the players.
All these has been the massive hindrances for the homosexual players in the league to come out, in the fear of backlash from fellow teammates, as well as coaches, franchise officials and other employees.
Remembering the case of Michael Sam, who, unlike Nassib, did not receive the massive support when he became the first gay player to be drafted into the NFL back in 2014.
After he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2014, an emotional and overjoyed Sam was seen kissing and hugging his boyfriend. While in the league today he would definitely have been treated differently, the player received horrendous backlash at that time.
Aside from the supporters and internet trolls, even former Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones had looked down upon Sam for being gay, and the player was slapped with a fine, suspension from team activities, and mandatory sensitivity training.
Fast forward to 2021, and things have changed. Nassib is being congratulated all around, something what Sam had also deserved at that time, being the trailblazer and the first gay athlete in the league.