Carl Nassib: First Openly Gay ‘Historic’ Active Player for NFL, Says Ryan K Russell


Carl Nassib (right) will be treated differently by his teammates – “but only in a positive way,” says Ryan K Russell

“Young LGBTQ + athletes will finally be able to pitch a football game and see themselves represented – at the highest level and hopefully be very successful.”

Former Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills defensive end Ryan K Russell said he spent the day in a state of “elation” after watching a video in which Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to declare himself gay.

It was a decision Nassib, 28, revealed he had been anxious to make for 15 years.

“My reaction was pure celebration and exhilaration, obviously for Carl and his own happiness, but also for men’s professional sports,” Russell told BBC Sport.

“I was able to send a congratulatory message to Carl and he received it and appreciated it. I just wanted to let him know that he has someone around and obviously a lot of people are supporting him.”

Nassib, who plays as a tight end for the Las Vegas Raiders, described himself as a “private person” and said he hoped that in the future videos of exiting athletes would not be necessary.

Yet for Russell – who himself came out in August 2019 – Nassib’s name will now be synonymous with key sporting moments involving LGBTQ + athletes.

“We’ve reduced our inclusion in the NFL and that’s a historic landmark,” he said. “A year ago it didn’t seem possible.

“More players are going to come out. More players are going to be themselves.

“The way we received them and the way we act now will affect not only professional athletes but also the young children who admire them.”

In 101 years of NFL history, Nassib was the first active player to declare himself gay, although several players did so after retirement or after leaving the league for other reasons.

In 2014, Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted to an NFL team, though he only appeared on practice teams afterwards – not competitive games.

Russell says the macho nature of the sport and its fan base may have kept athletes from stepping out before, but he’s optimistic for the future.

“I think in Carl’s case he will certainly be treated differently by his teammates – but only in a positive way,” he said.

“You know guys respect people who are honest and straightforward. The success of a team depends on the friendships and fellowship that you are able to build.

“And the fans who really support the game will support it too.

“Of course there will always be pushbacks because there are always a few ignorant people and I think sometimes they can sound louder than the positive noise.”

According to the American television channel ESPN, sales of Nassib’s jersey have exploded since the announcement.

Raiders owner Mark Davis told the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “These are personal decisions. It’s 2021 and he’s a Raider. If he’s happy, I’m happy. It takes courage.

“I thought we got to the point where it wasn’t [a prominent news story]. It doesn’t change my opinion of him as a man or as a Raider. “

In a statement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell added, “The NFL family is proud of Carl for courageously sharing his truth today. Representation matters.

“We share his hope that one day soon, statements like his will no longer be newsworthy as we march towards full equality for the LGBTQ + community.”

It has also been suggested that Nassib may become one of the most recognizable athletes in the world, with brands keen to work with him.

“I think brands like Nike and Adidas are going to realize that by supporting someone who is identified as LGBTQ, they are simply representing someone innovative and forward thinking,” Mike Hernandez, Creative Director of New York strategy agency The Mixx, told Reuters.

“And young consumers care, even if they don’t identify themselves as LGBTQ.”

Being bisexual “didn’t even cross my mind as an option”

With the NFL season set to begin on September 10, Russell is still hoping for a slice of history. Currently a free agent, he has been out with injury since 2019 but says he has had successful surgery and is ready to return to action.

This means that although Nassib is the first currently active player to come out, the race is still on for an openly gay player to enter the field in a competitive match.

“I hope I’m also part of a team trying to get him to run to this benchmark,” Russell joked.

“Either way, I will cheer him on and hope that he is successful and that they win and that he is able to break down those barriers and set those milestones.”

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