Congratulatory posts flooded social media on Monday when Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib introduced on Instagram that he’s homosexual, changing into the primary energetic N.F.L. participant to take action.
Jerseys and T-shirts bearing his identify have been the highest sellers amongst all N.F.L. gamers on Monday, based on Fanatics, the league’s e-commerce associate. Stars like Giants running back Saquon Barkley — who performed with Nassib at Penn State — and Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt rapidly voiced their assist for Nassib on Twitter. Effectively-known advocacy organizations praised his declaration as monumental.
“I feel persons are going to see what I’ve seen for years, that sports activities are much more accepting than individuals give it credit score for,” mentioned Cyd Zeigler, the co-founder of Outsports, a information web site that covers L.G.B.T.Q. athletes and points in sports activities.
But Nassib said in his post that he had “agonized” over the choice to go public about his sexuality, after holding it to himself for 15 years. That he’s the one energetic participant who’s publicly out in one of many 4 main American males’s professional sports activities leagues suggests the peak of the barrier that male athletes face brazenly acknowledging a gender or sexual id that doesn’t conform with these historically tolerated in locker rooms.
Different homosexual athletes who’ve gone public with their sexuality have mentioned they felt pressured to suppress it — and should regardless of currents in society shifting to extra acceptance — for easy but powerfully prohibitive causes. In locker rooms, on fields and on courts, male athletes are taught to embrace heteronormative requirements of masculinity.
“I feel it’s males and the machismo tradition that professional sports activities are performed, specifically,” that has inhibited males who establish as homosexual, bisexual, or queer from popping out, mentioned Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Variety and Ethics in Sport.
Nonetheless, some male athletes ventured to take action regardless of issues about their security and backlash from teammates and followers. In February 2014, the N.B.A. turned the primary of the 4 main American sports activities leagues to have an brazenly homosexual energetic participant when Jason Collins, who had come out publicly the earlier spring, joined the Nets. He retired from taking part in later that yr.
Michael Sam, who had been an all-American choice throughout his faculty profession as a defensive finish at Missouri, introduced that he’s homosexual weeks forward of Collins’s signing, within the lead-up to that yr’s N.F.L. draft. The Rams chosen him within the seventh, and final, spherical, and an overjoyed Sam cried and kissed his boyfriend on nationwide TV in some of the seen shows of homosexual male sexuality within the historical past of sports activities.
However the Rams lower Sam earlier than the top of coaching camp. The Dallas Cowboys then signed Sam to their apply squad, however he didn’t play in a daily season sport. He retired from soccer in 2015.
Intermittently, a handful of different notable male skilled athletes made bulletins about their sexuality all through the years solely after their sports activities careers had ended. However within the mid-aughts the stream of male former gamers to publicly come out as homosexual quickened, seeming to herald a shift in sporting tradition. Athletes like the previous N.B.A. participant John Amaechi (2007) and retired N.F.L. gamers Wade Davis (2012) and Kwame Harris (2013) publicly introduced that they’re homosexual in memoirs, journal cowl articles and, in Harris’s case, in a CNN interview.
Main League Soccer has had two energetic brazenly homosexual gamers — Robbie Rogers, who got here out in 2013, and Collin Martin, who did so in 2018.
In Main League Baseball, Glenn Burke, an outfielder who spent 4 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics within the Nineteen Seventies, is known as the first player in major league history to return out to his teammates throughout his profession. He got here out publicly in 1982, three years after his final main league sport. Burke, who died of AIDS problems in 1995, was supported by some teammates however was largely met with discrimination.
The momentum for different homosexual male N.F.L. athletes to return out whereas they have been nonetheless taking part in might have dwindled when Sam’s profession fizzled out earlier than it started. Nassib’s announcement might have been extra readily accepted — publicly, not less than — amongst his friends as a result of he’s already a reliable veteran.
Nassib has already performed 5 seasons within the N.F.L. and has saved a comparatively low profile at an unglamorous, however necessary, place. Drafted by the Cleveland Browns, he has appeared in 73 video games, beginning in 37 of them whereas recording 143 tackles.
Being labeled a “distraction” has lengthy been a stigma assigned to gamers who espoused any view or id that stood out from their teammates, however there’s an upside to Nassib’s elevated fame, Zeigler mentioned. His visibility may supply extra probabilities to debate matters surrounding L.G.B.T.Q. athletes.
“Tons of persons are going to be speaking about this over the following couple of days, then once more when he exhibits up for his first sport after which once more when he intercepts the ball and runs it again for a landing,” Zeigler mentioned. “Groups and gamers can deal with a few further cameras. This can be right here for some time.”
Males’s professional groups in America have lagged behind girls’s, the place L.G.B.T.Q. stars in staff and particular person sports activities have publicly recognized themselves and nonetheless been celebrated. W.N.B.A. stars Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne are among the many league’s present gamers who’ve come out as lesbian and Layshia Clarendon, who brazenly identifies as transgender and nonbinary, in January turned the league’s first participant to have a prime surgical procedure whereas energetic.
The outspoken United States Girls’s Nationwide Staff soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who’s engaged to the W.N.B.A’s Sue Chicken, mentioned after a Girls’s World Cup match in 2019 that “you can’t win a championship without gays on your team.” That yr’s World Cup included greater than three dozen gamers and coaches who’re homosexual, the truth is, and the profitable United States staff had not less than one couple amongst its members.
Within the Final Combating Championship, the highest-caliber combined martial arts promotion, the perfect feminine fighter of all time, Amanda Nunes, is an out lesbian.
In distinction to L.G.B.T.Q. male athletes, their out friends in girls’s American sports activities leagues have loved extra acceptance from the general public and from their heterosexual teammates lately. Rapinoe and Chicken are among the many hottest and marketable feminine athletes on this planet. In Nunes’s final combat in March, she introduced her toddler little one and fiancée contained in the octagon after defeating her opponent.
Based on Taylor Carr, chief of workers at Athlete Ally, an advocacy group for L.G.B.T.Q. athletes, that would owe to a larger sense of camaraderie in girls’s sports activities introduced on by different collective social fights. Feminine athletes have for many years fought for equal pay, and the W.N.B.A. prominently led in lots of social justice causes, together with a profitable marketing campaign by Atlanta Dream gamers to oust the staff’s proprietor, the Republican former senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, after she opposed the Black Lives Matter motion the league’s groups have been supporting.
“When you may have all of those individuals in girls’s athletics who’re sending very clear indicators about what they imagine, it makes you are feeling like ‘I’ve the flexibility to compete and stay as my private self,’” Carr mentioned. “I’m not simply an athlete, I can convey my complete self to the courtroom.”
There are indicators of People’ rising acceptance of L.G.B.T.Q. individuals, a cultural shift that will encourage different homosexual, bisexual and queer male athletes to return out publicly. Seventy % of respondents in a Gallup ballot performed this yr mentioned they assist same-sex marriage, a ten % leap from 2015 when the Supreme Court docket dominated that every one states should acknowledge these unions. Almost 6 % of respondents in a 2020 Gallup ballot recognized as L.G.B.T.Q., a 1 % leap from 2017.
It could take longer for that sea change to erode homophobic attitudes in male sports activities leagues, notably the N.F.L. Gamers have beforehand confronted backlash for offensive feedback, some made within the fast aftermath of a high-profile athlete publicly figuring out as homosexual.
The previous Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace posted on Twitter after Collins’s announcement in 2013 that he didn’t perceive why with “all these stunning girls on this planet and guys need to mess with different guys.” Wallace later apologized and deleted the publish.
San Francisco working again Garrison Hearst apologized in 2002 for utilizing a slur and saying he wouldn’t need a homosexual participant as a teammate after the retired Minnesota Vikings participant Esera Tuaolo publicly came out as homosexual that yr. Hearst’s remark elicited public apologies from the 49ers’ staff house owners and then-head coach Steve Mariucci, however no penalty from the league.
For its half, the N.F.L. has made efforts to publicly assist L.G.B.T.Q. inclusivity. The league sponsored a float within the 2018 and 2019 New York Metropolis Satisfaction Parades, participated in promotional efforts throughout Satisfaction Month in June like altering official social media avatars to incorporate rainbows, and supported the You Can Play Mission, which gives assets to encourage inclusivity in youth sports activities.
Troy Vincent, the manager vice chairman of soccer operations, wrote an essay final yr wherein he argued that the N.F.L. was able to welcome its first brazenly homosexual participant. The league’s official social media accounts, together with the Raiders’, responded to Nassib’s video with coronary heart icons.
Lapchick, who has studied gender and hiring practices in main sports activities leagues for over 25 years, famous soccer’s altering cultural panorama. “In case you advised me 5 years in the past that the N.F.L. and particular person groups would use hearts of their communications, I wouldn’t have guessed that,” he mentioned. “Particularly amongst males, there was a worry of popping out, and he broke that worry. I feel the response will present different N.F.L. gamers that they will do that, too.”
Andrew Das and James Wagner contributed reporting.