Carl Nassib’s bravery inspires as he reveals he is NFL’s first gay player

Carl Nassib made NFL history, revealing he is the first active gay player, inspiring a league and society in the process.

Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib made history this week.

More importantly, Nassib showed a world still marching towards true equality what bravery and courage really look like, when he revealed that he is the first gay player on an active NFL roster.

“This is massive for the NFL,” Carolina Panthers tight end Colin Thompson tells FanSided. “First of all, congratulations to Carl. Period. I can’t imagine how he feels. I can’t imagine what he said about the amount of time this has really weighed on his heart.

“For someone who has a near and dear family member who is a gay man, my brother, to see his struggle and see how unfairly he was treated … I’m thrilled for Carl to get that angst out of his body, and his mind.”

In coming out, Nassib, 28, broke one of the last remaining barriers in professional sports, and is doing so weeks before he’ll be stepping back into one of the most testosterone-infused environments on the planet; an NFL locker room.

“Sure, there’s going to be some uncomfortableness in a locker room about ‘hey, I’m showering next to a guy who is into men,” Thompson says. “It’s a unique thing in a locker room, in our society where heterosexuality is considered ‘the norm,’ when it’s really not.

“There’s going to be some young-minded people in that locker room who probably aren’t ready to handle that. I hope they are, because they’ll probably have regret about how they handled things if they don’t handle it well. I don’t see there being confrontations, but guys will be uncomfortable … When really, if it were me, I’d go out of my way to make him more comfortable. I’d approach him on the first day and let him know where I stand, let him know he has a friend in me if he needs someone to talk to … That’s how I’d handle it.”

Thompson, who shared his in depth thoughts on Nassib’s revelation during his most recent podcast episode, says he believes society and the NFL are more progressive than ever, as conversations are being brought to the fore by people like Carl, who help pave the way for others to feel comfortable living their own truth.

Nassib tore down a wall when he announced prior to this season that he is gay, but he isn’t the first NFL player to ever come out.

Michael Sam came out prior to the 2014 NFL Draft, but was met with much controversy before being selected by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round. He ultimately didn’t make the roster and was out of the NFL by season’s end.

It’s difficult not to wonder if his sexuality and the way he was perceived by teammates, fans, and society because of it were a barricade to him making the team.

Fortunately Nassib made his announcement in a far different world, just six years later.

“Where we’re at now? This was almost like a beam of light,” Thompson says. “It was like ‘wow, this is awesome.”

For Nassib, whose jersey was the top-selling in the NFL the past two days on Fanatics, the hope here is his Raiders teammates and fellow NFL players are welcoming and supportive of his revelation — and treat him with the equality that he deserves.

Unfortunately, a 2019 OutOnTheFields study reveals that 80 percent of both LGBT and straight athletes have witnessed or experienced homophobic behavior during competition. More troubling is the fact that 54 percent of male athletes admitted to using a homophobic slur in the past two weeks.

Hopefully, Nassib can avoid such bigotry and instead be a beacon for tangible changes in attitudes, beliefs, and actions both across the league and broader society as well.

When kids and teenagers, grappling internally with the choice between continuing to hide who they really are and stepping forward now have a role model who looks and feels like them.

Seeing Nassib announce his truth to the world will only encourage others to be who they are — rather than who society wants them to be.

Nassib, in addition to revealing his own truth, made it undoubtedly a softer landing for folks grappling with their decision whether to come out, and made an incredible gesture of hope by donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project, which is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis organization for the LGBTQ+ youth.

His donation inspired Penn State head football coach James Franklin and his wife Fumi to make a $10,000 donation in Nassib’s honor.

New Orleans Saints cornerback Grant Haley was teammates with Nassib in Happy Valley, and echoed his former coach’s sentiments.

“Carl has been nothing but a leader ever since I met him at Penn State,” Haley tells FanSided. “To step out and tell your truth, especially as an NFL athlete and role model is something that honestly has the impact to change not only his life but the lives of so many others deal with being able to tell their truth.

“I respect Carl and wish him nothing but full support and love throughout the rest of his journey to impact the LGBTQ community.”

Seeing Giants running back, and Nassib’s college teammate, Saquon Barkley tweet his support of Nassib, Franklin’s donation after saying he was “proud of Carl when he led the nation in sacks, but I’m even more proud of him now,” as the Penn State community rallies around Nassib is heartening and inspiring to see.

Likewise, the reaction around the NFL has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive of Nassib.

“Good for you Carl,” Cardinals defensive lineman J.J. Watt tweeted. “Glad you feel comfortable enough to share and hopefully someday these types of announcements will no longer be considered breaking news.”

Tuesday, the NFL announced it not only supports Nassib, but the league is matching his $100,000 donation to the Trevor Fund, one of the biggest indicators of how much the league has changed since Sam was drafted.

The NFL has made several missteps in terms of racial equality, found itself on the wrong side of the social justice argument for far too long, and must answer for the institutional racism of race norming in terms of how it handled settlements with retired players. But, the league standing alongside Nassib and donating to help prevent LGBTQ+ youth suicides is a significant step forward and incredibly helpful.

Sadly, though, there are still far too many people in our society who view homosexuality as “a choice.”

While more and more people are thankfully being enlightened to the fact that one’s sexuality is a way of being, rather than a choice made during their life, Nassib’s announcement is one step closer to the stigma attached to being gay being banished to the annals of history where it belongs.

“I’m just so happy for Carl,” Thompson says. “And for the NFL … This is monumental.”

Podcast

Foreshocks of the NFL’s next economic earthquake

The San Francisco 49ers are one of the more fascinating teams when it comes to the chase for the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2021.

Jimmy Garoppolo returns at quarterback, until the moment Kyle Shanahan believes Trey Lance is ready to take the reins. Defensively, San Francisco is getting Nick Bosa back. The 49ers also re-signed cornerback K’Waun Williams and are bringing back All-Pro offensive tackle Trent Williams.

But one player who could prove pivotal to the 49ers’ success on defense is All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner, who produced a career-high 367 tackles with one sack and two fumble recoveries in 2020.

“He’s one of the best,” 49ers starting guard Daniel Brunskill told me during an appearance on FanSided’s The Matt Lombardo Show podcast. “He’s really tough to block. He gets us a lot better, in practice. He stacks upwards ith some of the best, for sure. I’ve gone against Bobby Wagner, who’s really good. I’ve gone against Luke Kuechly, those guys are just tremendous players, and Fred [Warner] is definitely up there with them.

“What makes Fred great is he’s got great athletic ability, he’s smart player, and he’s also instinctive. I think that’s what makes him so great. He’s able to recognize a lot of things pre-snap, and that helps him become a better player because he’s playing as fast as he can and there’s nothing for him to think about. He’s really good at getting off blocks, and that’s what makes good linebackers the best.”

In addition to being one of the 49ers’ best defensive players, Warner is also one of the premier off-ball linebackers in the NFL … A position that for years hasn’t seen the same value on the open-market as some of the more dynamic defenders; pass-rushers, defensive backs, etc.

But, because Warner is entering the final year of his contract, the Dallas Cowboys decided not to pick up Leighton Vander Esch’s fifth-year option, and Colts All-Pro Darius Leonard is due to become a free agent following this season, the economics of the position and of defensive players across the board is about to change.

Teams are going to have significantly more resources to dedicate to keeping their most dynamic defenders — including off-ball linebackers, when the salary cap rises to at least $208.2 million in 2022 and balloons when the money from the newly negotiated TV rights package arrives beginning in 2023.

Besides the potential for strong play from Warner, Leonard, and others possibly driving up their price tags next March, the fact that Warner’s 91.1 coverage grade, Leonard’s 69.8 from Pro Football Focus has the potential to push the value of their position ever so closer to those of hybrid defenders such as Jalen Simmons who can flash near the line of scrimmage and make plays in coverage.

“Leonard is going to get a huge deal,” one high-profile agent tells FanSided. “And Warner isn’t far behind him.”

Cost of labor is going to rise across the board as the spending thresholds do. But, it might not be more pronounced in coming years anywhere else as much as at linebacker, based on how those players are being used and what they’re asked to do.

“You have the pass rushers and cover corners at the top of the food-chain,” the agent says. “Now you have those off ball LB’s they can pass rush and cover down the field. The position is going to evolve into a big safety soon enough.”

Quotable

“We won the division with a 7-9 record. And as proud as we are to say we won the division, 7-9 is not what we’re shooting for every year. So I think we just have to keep things in perspective and realize we have a long way to go. We’re not even close to hitting where we think we can be or even where we want to be. And we’ve just got to continue to grind.” –

– Washington Football Team defensive tackle Jonathan Allen, via SiriusXM

Allen is part of what might be the most dominant and disruptive front sevens in the NFL, on a team coached by the highly-respected Ron Rivera, which should give the Football Team a puncher’s chance at returning to the postseason in 2021.

However, Allen is right to set loftier expectations for Washington in 2021, because the NFC East is going to be much improved.

The New York Giants, after signing Kenny Golladay, Adoree’ Jackson, and bringing back Leonard Williams will be much more competitive, thanks to what seems like a playoff-caliber roster. Dallas has the chance to be explosive on offense, and should be significantly better on defense thanks to drafting Micah Parsons and signing defensive lineman Tarrell Basham, safety Keanu Neal and others. Philadelphia is a bit of a wild card, but if wide receivers Jalen Reagor and DeVonta Smith can be game-changers for young quarterback Jalen Mills, look out for the Eagles.

Washington snuck in as champions of one of the historically weak divisions we’ve seen in sports, but the NFC East in 2021 has the potential to be a different beast, entirely. It is only June, and much can change, but if Allen and his teammates are to repeat as champions, they might need to first win the three-team race to 10 wins.

Final thought

A belated Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there, shout out to my fellow #GirlDads!, and especially to the man who taught me to hit a baseball, coached my youth basketball teams, and worked the chain gang — large Dunkin Donuts coffee in hand — during my short-lived 80-pound Pop Warner Football career.

More importantly than all of those memories, my Dad has been among the biggest supporters of my career in sports journalism and an unrelenting inspiration to me both as I experienced the unmatchable joy of becoming a father myself, and in passing along the value of hard work.

I wasn’t sure four months ago if we’d get to share another Father’s Day. If we’d ever step up to a tee box together again. If he’d be there as his adoring granddaughter grows into the kind, loving young woman I can only hope she does.

Miraculously, and thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, my Dad has gone from being completely paralyzed on the left side of his body — unable to move even his big toe on his left foot — after a blood clot passed through his brain causing a stroke, to planning our first round of golf together post-stroke when we are on vacation in Ocean City, N.J. in a couple weeks time.

My grandfather’s nickname was “nails” because of his toughness, and my Dad is testament that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but when it does, it’s quick to dust itself off, pick itself up and get back to living its best life again.

I’m sure he has the mental battles he wages each day in his recovery. But overall, my Dad is no worse for wear following his stroke. I feel so incredibly fortunate that he is still with us, is thriving, and I appreciate every bit of generosity he has shown me and my family throughout my entire life. Now more than ever.

If you still have your father in your life, you’re blessed. I feel that more than ever this week, and don’t plan on taking that feeling — or him for granted, from here on out.

Matt Lombardo is FanSided’s National NFL Insider and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday. Email Matt: Matt.Lombardo@FanSided.com, Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL

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