Why Carl Nassib becoming the NFL's first openly gay active player matters so much

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Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib came out as gay on Monday, becoming the first active NFL player to do so.

For some, this will be met with a shrug. After all, nearly every American at least knows some coworker, friend, neighbor or family member who is openly gay. If somehow they do not, then they know one of the above who just hasn’t acknowledged it to them. It will happen soon.

Either way, the ultimate goal here is to have announcements like these to not matter because they are so commonplace and accepted. It seems unlikely there were many people, after all, sitting around Monday wondering about Carl Nassib’s dating life.

This, however, does matter now. It matters a lot because there are still too many people who don’t feel professionally or personally secure enough to make the statement that Nassib did. Not just in the NFL, but in every walk of life. Some of those are teenagers who, as Nassib, 28, noted in his social media posts, are five times more likely to commit suicide as they struggle with the issue.

If the fact an active NFL player can come out — at last — helps just one of those kids, or the many more who struggle in other ways to live their truth, then Carl Nassib’s impact on the world is far greater than chasing quarterbacks around the AFC West.

“I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now but finally feel comfortable getting it off my chest,” Nassib, a five-year veteran who has played for Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Vegas, posted on Instagram. “I really have the best life, the best family, friends and job a guy can ask for.

“I’m a pretty private person so I hope you guys know that I’m not doing this for attention,” the Penn State product continued. “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 to cultivate a culture that’s accepting and compassionate.”

With that he announced a $100,000 donation to the Trevor Project, which “provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning young adults.”

For years the NFL has been one of the last bastions of American society without an openly gay athlete. There have been a number who came out after their playing days, but the football world has proven to be a particularly difficult world to crack.

This is the first fissure in changing that. The future is inevitable. There will be more. A lot of them. And even with the hesitancy of players to come out, the NFL will probably (hopefully) be far more welcoming than some expect.

It’s a very young league. The average age of a player last year was 26. This is generational, and younger generations are, mercifully, more and more relaxed on this issue.

“I am incredibly thankful for the NFL, my coaches and fellow players for their support,” Nassib wrote. “I would not have been able to do this without them. From the jump, I was treated with the utmost respect and acceptance.”

For Nassib, the opportunity to concentrate on playing the game while not worrying about being honest about himself should be helpful. While closed-minded critics will say this is too much information, NFL players, like all types of professions, routinely post about their life on social media.

Engagement photos. Father’s Day photos. Vacation photos. They make statements about their private lives all the time and never have to think twice about it. Neither should Nassib or anyone else like him.

Nassib is a good player, a part-time starter in the middle of a three-year contract with the Raiders. He's recorded 20.5 sacks in his career. Unlike rookie hopeful Michael Sam in 2014, he’s going to be on the roster this season, playing in games. For once, there will be representation of an openly gay player in America’s most popular sport.

It matters. It might matter a lot.

“It brings me incredible sadness to think that our LGBTQ youth are at such an elevated risk for suicide,” Nassib wrote. “I feel an immense responsibility to help any way I can — and you can too.”

That should be a universally accepted goal, although reality says there will still be those who think and say otherwise. Time has passed for that segment of society.

Progress has been slow and there is still a long way to go. The NFL has an openly gay player though, a guy who is willing to make himself known if only to come to the aid of someone, somewhere who isn't so certain.

It’s a big thing. It’s a good thing. And hopefully one day soon, as Carl Nassib notes, it will just be a common thing.