My best friend James reminds me every year of the day he came out to me. It was in November of 2006.
It wasn’t a shock to me — we’d known each other for nearly 10 years by that point, through college and our early 20s, when all the good stuff happens — but it was, to this day, one of the most humbling and special moments of both of our lives. I was and still am so honored that he trusted me with that incredibly personal revelation, and I know he’s grateful I was there to be the first to receive it. As a result, we could finally go to gay clubs unironically and shedding the pretense that he “just wanted to see what they were like.”
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Though attitudes toward gay rights have become more accepting since then, it still made him emotional to learn that Carl Nassib, a defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders, came out as gay on Monday. Nassib is the first active NFL player to do so, and in his post, he announced a $100,000 donation to the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention program for LGBTQ youth.
“I wish there had been more openly gay NFL players when I was younger,” James said. “I may have even come out to my fraternity brothers in college sooner had there been more Carls out there to look up to.”
Instead, he didn’t until many years later, and like so many, suffered through years of shame and agonizing anxiety over who he was and how he’d ever be able to live as his honest self.
What Carl Nassib did was take some of that away for other kids and young adults struggling to be themselves and love who they love, a gift that is truly priceless and life-saving.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center estimates that between 5% and 10% of LGBTQ youth have attempted suicide, a rate that is 1.5 to three times higher than heterosexual youth.
As Nassib wrote in his post, “Studies have shown that all it takes is one accepting adult to decrease the risk of an LGBTQ kid attempting suicide by 40%. Whether you’re a friend, a parent, a coach, or a teammate — you can be that person.”
It’s a powerful message. I asked Donte Stallworth, former NFL wide receiver, his thoughts on Nassib’s announcement and how it would be received inside football.
“Coming out as the first active NFL player in history is a big deal,” he said. “I expect his teammates to rally around him, and others in the league as well as many players who are not teammates of Carl’s have expressed support for him already via social media.”
Stallworth also acknowledged the impact this could have on another generation of LGBTQ youth. “Carl is obviously not the only gay player in the NFL, but his courage in making this announcement will encourage so many — not just in the NFL — who don’t feel like they can openly be themselves and love who they love. I’m so proud of Carl — this is what selfless love is.”
With so much acceptance around gay rights today, some met Nassib’s announcement with more of a shrug, which itself might be an indication of progress. But it’s important not to underestimate how consequential and meaningful this moment is.
A follower of Fox News contributor Guy Benson, who is gay, wrote on Twitter, “Guy, I love you man, but how is this kind of thing still considered brave? LGBT people are celebrated everywhere in the US now. Back in 2010? Sure. In 2021? No.”
Benson’s response hit the nail on the head: “Sure, it’s celebrated in popular culture. It’s absolutely not universally celebrated in lockerrooms, among drunk/heckling opposing fans, between whispering teammates, and within many families and communities. You’d think w/ big brands rainbowing everything, it’s now easy. It’s not.”
Professional sports, at least among men, is still very much a closeted space. Less than a decade ago, pro sports was considered “the last closet,” with no out players in the NFL, MLB or NHL.
Last year, a bevy of pro athletes from around the world came out, but few were from the U.S., and none were active players in our four major league sports.
Jason Collins, who was the first active male athlete from one of the four major sports leagues to come out in 2013, said last year of the ongoing reluctance of NBA players to come out, “There is that fear of stepping forward.”
Nassib’s announcement, in this context, is huge in so many paradigm-shifting ways. The shrug is a good sign that we are moving on from the homophobia that defined so many generations, but make no mistake, this revelation won’t be met everywhere with a shrug. From school locker rooms to professional locker rooms, it will hopefully be heard loud and clear by those who need to hear it most.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.
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