There are 1,696 active players in the National Football League. Remarkably, the Raiders' Carl Nassib is the first to come out as gay.
The Las Vegas defensive lineman looked jubilant in an Instagram video he posted on Monday, sharing his truth. "Just want to take a quick moment to say that I'm gay," Nassib told the world. "I've been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest."
The 28-year-old noted that he's a private person and doesn't want folks to think he came out 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 just not necessary, but until then I"m gonna do my best and do my part to cultivate a culture that's accepting, that's compassionate."
Along with being a role model for other LGBTQ+ athletes and youth, Nassib is making a $100,000 donation to The Trevor Project for its suicide prevention work. In a written statement he shared with his coming-out video, Nassib noted that queer kids are five times more likely than their straight peers to consider suicide. "For someone like me, who has been so lucky and cherishes every day, it brings me incredible sadness to think that our LGBTQ youth are at such an elevated risk," he wrote. "I feel an immense responsibility to help in any way I can — and you can too. Studies have shown that all it takes is one accepting adult to decrease the risk of an LGBTQ kid attempting suicide by 40%. Whether you're a friend, a parent, a coach or a teammate — you can be that person."
While Nassib is the first active player to come out, the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL was Michael Sam in 2014. He was cut by the St. Louis Rams before he ever got to play a regular-season game, however. In his statement Nassib wrote, "I stand on the shoulders of giants, incredible people who paved the way for me to have this opportunity."
A number of retired NFL players have disclosed they're gay over the years, too. In 1975, Dave Kopay was one of the first professional athletes to come out, three years after leaving the San Francisco 49ers. Jeff Rohrer, a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1980s, became the first known NFL player to be part of a same-sex marriage when he wed his husband in 2018.
Ryan Russell came out as a bisexual man in 2019, three years after playing one season for the Dallas Cowboys and two more for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his 2019 memoir, Ryan O’Callaghan, who played six seasons for the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, wrote that disclosing his sexuality saved his life, since the fear of being outed had driven him to consider suicide.
Statistically speaking, there is most likely more than one gay player currently in the NFL. Perhaps Nassib's joyful coming out will inspire other professional athletes to do the same. "I hope people will see this announcement and feel motivated to say, we need to create a world where everyone can play sports when they want to regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity," Amit Paley, CEO of The Trevor Project, told CBS News.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell celebrated Nassib for "courageously sharing his truth" in a statement. "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."