I feel the worst for Carl Nassib in the aftermath of Jon Gruden’s emails.
It was less than four months ago that Nassib made a choice to come out as gay, the only current player in the NFL to do so. He did it on the very team Gruden coached. And he chose to do it during Pride month, our community’s celebration of who we are and our togetherness.
Yet I can only imagine how alone Nassib feels this week.
Today he requested time away from the team, less than two days after Gruden’s awful comments became public.
When Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said today that Nassib “is a community of one that is openly gay” in the NFL, he was not far off. There are great players who are out who came before him, but virtually none of them know what he’s feeling.
I can only imagine the onslaught of requests Nassib has received to talk about Gruden’s slurs. “The gay player for the anti-gay coach.” For the media, it writes itself.
Yet the last person I would try to reach out to right now is Nassib. The emotional toll of coming out and reading reports of your head coach calling the commissioner of the NFL a “faggot,” and Michael Sam a “queer,” has to be rough.
It’s something none of us know. We don’t understand it.
And Nassib has made it clear: He just wants to play football.
I wish I could give Nassib a hug. And listen to him, and talk to him. Help him.
And I wish I could talk to every LGBTQ player in the NFL, help them see a path to joining Nassib as a publicly out player.
He is not a community of one. But it must feel like it.
Getting over the coming-out hurdle isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for Nassib. There are so many fears of reactions from family, players, fans. No matter how many Dave Kopays and Carl Nassibs have come before them, the fear is real.
Gruden’s own words make it even harder.
Yet my hope is that every other LGBTQ person across football can see what we’ve seen at Outsports, that people are generally good. That they generally want the best for their teammates, or the athletes on their favorite team. That parents generally just want their kids to be happy and successful. And that there is a wonderful, diverse LGBTQ community to support all of it.
I hope they all take heart in how the NFL has reacted to Gruden’s once-private comments. Other than a couple “this was 10 years ago” comments on Twitter, I’ve seen no defense of what he said and his choice of words. Not from players, not from fans, not from coaches, not from anybody.
Yet none of that helps Nassib right now.
A community of one. I take some solace in knowing he has a boyfriend, someone who can hopefully listen to him and help him through this tough time.
I look for hope to some of his teammates, who have expressed pride in him. And I hope Mark Davis, the owner of the team, reaches out and offers two ears to listen. Davis’ family has staked its reputation on values of inclusion and diversity, and there are probably few people in the NFL more equipped to listen than the owner of Nassib’s team.
Coming out was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. To come out publicly? As an NFL player? I can’t imagine the fear they have to overcome.
Yet it was also the best decision I’ve made in my life. We hear the same thing from out athletes everywhere. Nassib himself has talked about the absolute joy he’s experienced being his true self. And if you’ve been watching, he’s even been playing better.
As football players are coming out at high schools and colleges across America, I increasingly hope gay and bi NFL players do the same. They’re out there. I know they are.
And if they’re not ready to come out publicly, I so hope they’ll reach out to Nassib or the Raiders. Offer this young, courageous man a sense that he is not alone. Let him know there are others just like him playing around the league.
Even if he may feel alone right now, Nassib is not. And it’s our job to make sure he feels that sense of community.