There's a good chance you'd never heard of Carl Nassib before this week. The 28-year-old defensive end with the Las Vegas Raiders was hardly a household name, playing a less-than-glamorous position which requires plenty of grunt work in the trenches that often goes unnoticed by everyone except coaches and the most hardcore fans.
All of that changed with an Instagram post on Monday that has put Nassib on the frontlines of a battle that truly matters. And by uttering two words which he'd admittedly struggled to go public with for years — ''I'm gay" — the Pennsylvania native announced to the world he's prepared to do some truly heavy lifting.
It's not a stretch to suggest Nassib has just saved some lives. And his courage in coming out, the first-ever active player in the ultra-macho world of the NFL to do so, should earn him a standing ovation in every stadium he sets foot in this coming season.
"I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest," Nassib said in a video message. "I’m a pretty private person, so I hope you guys know that I’m really not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important."
There will hopefully be a day where an announcement of this kind won't be necessary, let alone cause any kind of a ripple. What an athlete does in their private life, and who they are attracted to, is frankly none of our damn business.
Sadly, we are not even close to there yet in a world where being anything but straight, and white, still brings with it discrimination, prejudice, hurt and hate in plenty of dark quarters. You just have to look at some of the vile online replies, or the fact many media outlets including this one have closed comments, for proof.
And so a prominent figure such as Nassib using his voice is an important, long-overdue development, particularly when it comes to male-dominated sports such as football. It's pretty much the same story in other major pro leagues including the NHL, NBA and MLB. Consider this: More than a dozen NFL players have previously come out, but only after their playing days were in the rear-view mirror. Ask yourself why that is, and you'll have the answer to why this is truly a big deal.
Former quarterback Warren Moon, for example, revealed Monday that he had several gay teammates during his 22-year career in both the NFL and CFL, all of whom kept it hidden for fear of backlash. No doubt having a brave trailblazer such as Nassib during their era would have gone a long way to making their life a lot less complicated.
"We live in a different time now where diversity is much more accepted. Cheers Carl, and I hope this lets other athletes know, its OK to say who you are," said Moon.
If you're still not convinced, try this on for size. According to the Trevor Project, LGBTTQ+ youth are five times more likely than straight teens to consider suicide. A big reason for that is a feeling of isolation and loneliness, of having nobody to turn to in their time of need.
"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 LGBTTQ+ kid attempting suicide by 40 per cent. Whether you're a friend, a parent, a coach or a teammate — you can be that person," said Nassib, who also put his money where his mouth is by donating US$100,000 of his salary to the non-profit agency.
Now, those kids have a heck of a role model to look up to, both figuratively and literally given Nassib's 6-7, 275-pound frame. And I'm happy to report that once you wade through the usual social media cesspool caused by some cowardly keyboard warriors, the early returns are encouraging, with plenty of other high-profile individuals using their ample platforms to back Nassib.
There was Brian Burke, currently serving as the Pittsburgh Penguins president of hockey operations, applauding Nassib and encouraging other executives to do the same. Burke is a long-time advocate whose late son, Brendan, was gay. Plenty of current players along with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell joined the chorus, as did Nassib's former college coach at Penn State, James Franklin, who made a US$10,000 donation to the Trevor Project. It was all quite heartwarming.
"This announcement doesn’t surprise me because if you know Carl, you know his strength. Carl’s story continues to add chapters which will have an impact well beyond the field of play," said Franklin. "Carl’s brave announcement will forge a path for others to be true to their authentic self."
Nassib said he discussed the matter privately with family, friends, teammates and coaches and cited their "utmost respect and acceptance" for now going public with the idea of truly making a difference. And seeing the outpouring of support is just as important as the original message itself, telling others there's absolutely nothing wrong with being your true, authentic self regardless of your lot in life.
We've seen such a movement in women's sports, but barely a trickle when it comes to men. Until now.
"The ability to live an authentic life is so important," tennis legend Billie Jean King wrote on her Twitter account. "Representation and visibility matter!"
They certainly do. Regardless what he does on the playing field for the rest of his career, Nassib has cemented his legacy by tackling a truly important topic beyond the gridiron. For that, he deserves our respect, admiration and unconditional support.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.