How one athlete’s courage has given the LGBTQ community new strength

National Football League player Carl Nassib has given the battle against homophobia in sports and society in general a huge boost

Ken ReedLas Vegas Raiders’ defensive lineman Carl Nassib announced he was gay last week. He’s the first active National Football League player to do so.

It was a landmark announcement that will help thousands of young LGBTQ athletes and non-athletes alike. It’s a milestone that has – and will continue to – garner a lot of attention.

Nassib’s announcement has resulted in an outpouring of support, including from United States President Joe Biden, who tweeted, “To Carl Nassib and Kumi Yokoyama (a Japanese soccer player) – two prominent, inspiring athletes who came out this week: I’m so proud of your courage. Because of you, countless kids around the world are seeing themselves in a new light today.”

Nassib’s jersey became the number one seller in the NFL the day after his announcement.

Nassib’s decision, as an active player in America’s favourite sport, can truly make a positive difference. The world of sports, in particular football, might be the last bastion of unadulterated homophobia in American culture. Homophobic language and gay stereotypes are common in football locker rooms and there’s an emphasis on brute physical strength and machoism in the game’s culture.

“Bravery takes a lot of forms, physical being just one, and a particularly unappreciated brand of it is social courage, which is the courage to risk your place in the society you move in,” wrote Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins after Jason Collins became the first active, openly gay National Basketball Association player to come out.

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Nassib’s emotional and spiritual strength will give more LGBTQ athletes the courage to come out and be true to themselves. It’s a shame we still live in a society in which many LGBTQ citizens feel they need to suffocate who they truly are to fit in and be accepted. Nassib was fed up with that kind of life and decided he could be both an NFL player and an authentic and truthful human.

“I’m a pretty private person so I hope you guys know that I’m not doing this for attention,” said Nassib in his announcement. “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.”

What a beautiful cause: preventing suicide among LGBTQ youth in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, LGBTQ youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.

If you’re straight and an advocate for civil rights, social justice, and equal opportunity in sports, one of the best things you can do is support the march toward a sports world of equality.

That’s why organizations like Athlete Ally and You Can Play are so important. Both place strong emphasis on the importance of straight allies in the fight for equal opportunity in sports.

The journalist Patrick Hruby nailed this whole issue when he said, “Sexuality is irrelevant. … Imagine the lack of joy, the sheer, inescapable loneliness, a lifetime seeking support with a finger planted on the censor button, wondering if anyone will embrace you for being, you know, you. Now realize how utterly unnecessary all of that should be. How unnecessary all of that actually is.”

Some day, an NFL player coming out as gay won’t be a big deal. But today it is.

And kudos to Carl Nassib for taking that bold step.

Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans (leagueoffans.org), a sports reform project. He is the author of The Sports Reformers, Ego vs. Soul in Sports, and How We Can Save Sports. For interview requests, click here.


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