Carl Nassib makes history as the first openly gay player to take the field in an NFL playoff game

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Nassib added: 

“I’m a pretty private person so I hope you guys know that I’m 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 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 and they’re truly doing incredible things. I’m very excited to be a part of it and help in any way that I can and I’m really pumped to see what the future holds.”

At the time of his announcement, the Las Vegas Raiders tweeted out: “Proud of you, Carl” from the team’s official account.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also expressed his support, and the league matched Nassib’s $100,000 donation to The Trevor Project.

Goodell told Outsports: “The NFL family is proud of Carl for courageously sharing his truth today. Representation matters. We share his hope that someday soon statements like his will no longer be newsworthy as we march toward full equality for the LGBTQ+ community. We wish Carl the best of luck this coming season.”

The support for The Trevor Project meant a big deal to Ryan O’Callaghan, who hid his sexual orientation during his six-year NFL career as an offensive lineman.

“The Trevor Project really has had a big presence in our community for a long time,” said O’Callaghan, whose six-year career included stints with the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs from 2006 to 2011. “They’re serving a critical need. You can look up the statistics for depression and suicidal thoughts and actually committing suicide within the LGBTQ community, and it’s way too high, especially compared to the average American. The Trevor Project has been there for a lot of people. Even back when I was closeted, I remember calling their hotline once.”

When Nassib came out, there was the usual talk of whether that would cause distractions in the locker room. While we don’t know what might have been said to Nassib on or off the field, the Raiders had to overcome much bigger distractions and obstacles just to reach the playoffs this season. Nassib’s coming out was not one of those distractions for the Raiders on their way to Saturday’s matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Raiders’ head coach Jon Gruden had to resign after emails surfaced in which he used racist, misogynistic, and homophobic comments and hate speech. The team rallied together under interim head coach Rich Bisaccia for their playoff run.

Then the team’s star wide receiver Henry Ruggs was released after being charged with a DUI that resulted in the death of a young woman. 

And then there was the constant presence of COVID-19 which sidelined players on most teams.

But the Raiders persisted. As former defensive end RK Russell, who is gay and played three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, noted in a column in Saturday’s issue of The Guardian, the least of the Raiders’ worries this season “was one of their players finally being honest about who he is.”

Russell wrote:

So it stands that with an openly gay player on their roster, the Las Vegas Raiders return to the playoffs for the second time in 19 years. Counter to what some have claimed for years, Carl Nassib proves that coming out is not a distraction to a team or the game but that you can win big when your team can accept and support its players. Now not only will LGBTQ+ athletes, fans, and individuals be able to see themselves represented on Sundays when the Raiders are playing on their local channel but on a national stage in the NFL playoffs.

Regardless of the outcome for the Raiders during wild card weekend, it’s essential to document this moment in history, one that is a first in all the years the game has been played. Whether Carl and the Raiders become Super Bowl champions now is not a moot point because, for the first time, closeted athletes, out athletes, LGBTQ+ sports fans, and people alike can know it’s possible.

This weekend, we will see the first ever playoff game with an active LGBTQ+ player. Looking to the future, it’s a distinct thrill to know that one day we will have a queer player with a Super Bowl ring. It’s important to mark these milestones and to keep pushing forward, especially now that it’s no longer a question of if but when.

As a Jets fan, who remembers playoff games against the Raiders and the 1968 Heidi Game defeat, I never thought I’d be saying this, but: Let’s go Raiders!



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