This is the first time an active player has come out as gay during pride month, so I was thrilled to hear about Carl Nassib. For those who are unfamiliar, Nassib is a defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders. Originally drafted to the Cleveland Browns in 2016, he found his way to the Tampa Buccaneers for a brief period between 2018 and 2019 only to end up with the Raiders where he is currently active.
The importance of representation is the reason for its importance. Since decades, members of the LGBTQ community have been mistreated and underrepresented. It is also unusual for male athletes to openly discuss their sexuality unless they are heterosexuals. There is a very real issue of homophobia in sports, even though it is rarely discussed in the media.
Homophobia within the league
There is nothing more illustrative of homophobia than the NFL’s blacklisting of Michael Sam. Sam was from Missouri and was projected to be the fourth-round draft pick in 2014. When he openly declared that he was gay in February of that year, things suddenly began to change for the worse. Remember how I said he was projected to be a fourth-round pick? Sam was not selected until the 249th pick overall which is eighth to last in the final round of the NFL draft. Let that sink in. After all the backlash, he never played a regular-season game again. He even went on to play for a Canadian football league called the Montreal Alouettes. He soon found himself cut from the Dallas Cowboys and currently no longer plays football professionally. When speaking to a group of students from The University of New Mexico, he went on to say “I started getting emotional. I started crying. I went upstairs. I was looking at the ocean and I was hearing the seals talk to each other. And, for like, the briefest of moments I had doubt. I had regret, actually. I said, did I do the right thing? Should I have kept quiet?…” truly heartbreaking.
A glimpse of the past
Out of the 102 years, the NFL has been in association, only 16 players have come out as gay or bisexual while only 39 current NFL players have played with an openly gay team member. Carl Nassib became the 16th. To only have 16 openly gay players in the association barely scratches the surface of the stigma surrounding gay men who play football. David Kopay was the first player to ever come out in 1975 three years after retiring. Despite the trials and tribulations, he among the other 16 players, has inspired those of the LGBTQ community in regards to sports.
It’s difficult to tell if real change will present itself. Don’t get me wrong, it has, but the stigma needs to end. It’s 2021, being gay shouldn’t be treated as if it’s a touchy subject because it’s not. Michael Sam didn’t deserve the treatment he endured while in the NFL and to the players who felt like they couldn’t come out until after their career was over, further proves that society, specifically in the male sports world, needs more acceptance.