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As a 6-foot-7, 275-pound defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders, Carl Nassib has made a career of impacting people.
But never more than now.
Nassib announced Monday that he’s gay, becoming the first active NFL player to do so.
That brings a sense of both relief and responsibility, said retired NBA center Jason Collins, who publicly came out as gay at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season. When he signed a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets in 2014, he became that league’s first out active player.
“As professional athletes, we're used to inspiring the next generation, people who are younger than us. But he's going to find that his actions have inspired not only people who are younger than him but older than him,” Collins said Monday in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“I can't tell you the amount of people who were decades older than me who came up to me and said how my story impacted them. You don't know what to say. You're still in that mindset of being an athlete and helping kids. But he's helping people across the board, of all ages.”
"He's going to find that his actions have inspired not only people who are younger than him but older than him."
Nassib, 28, a former Penn State standout who is going into his sixth season in the NFL and second with the Raiders, was matter of fact in his announcement, which came via Instagram video, during Pride Month, from the yard of his home in West Chester, Pa.
“I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” he said. “I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest.
“I really have the best life. I got 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 really not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important.”
The reaction around the league was swift and resounding.
“The NFL family is proud of Carl for courageously sharing his truth today,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “Representation matters. We share his hope that someday soon statements like his will no longer be newsworthy as we march toward full equality for the LGBTQ+ community. We wish Carl the best of luck this season.”
The Raiders reposted Nassib’s message on Twitter with the words, “Proud of you, Carl,” and team owner Mark Davis told the Los Angeles Times: “Number one, it’s 2021 so it’s not the most surprising thing in the world. It doesn’t change my opinion of Carl as a man or as a Raider.”
Michael Sam, a former University of Missouri defensive end, was the first openly gay football player selected in the NFL draft, taken in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams in 2014. He never made a final roster or played in a regular-season game, however.
Collins was the second openly gay athlete to play in any of the major men's professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. The first was soccer standout Robbie Rogers, who did so for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2013.
“It was huge when I made my announcement, seeing the words of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash and Paul Pierce, the list goes on and on of guys who were either leaders in the NBA or guys who I was teammates with,” said the 7-foot Collins, who along with twin brother, Jarron, was a basketball star at Harvard-Westlake and Stanford. “Just reading his statement, he seems to have his head on his shoulders, seems very confident. Obviously, I think he'll continue to grow as a human being. All of us do.”
Nassib announced his plans to donate $100,000 to the Trevor Project, a nonprofit aimed at preventing suicides among LGBTQ youth.
“It shows the kind of person and kind of heart that he has,” Collins said. “Even in this moment when he's making a huge personal announcement, he's still thinking of others. That shows what kind of person he is and what kind of teammate he is.”
By Monday afternoon, the Nassib news had reverberated well beyond the sports world. Sarah Kate Ellis, president and chief executive of GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, said the “powerful coming out is a historic reflection of the growing state of LGBTQ visibility and inclusion in the world of professional sports, which has been driven by a long list of brave LGBTQ athletes who came before him.”
Collins said after the dust settles, Nassib likely will welcome a return to regular life.
“The coming down part is it will eventually be about, how is the team doing? How is he doing? As with all professional athletes, that's what it's about,” Collins said. “When you're on the field, is your team better? At the end of the day, that's what it will come back to.
“As professional athletes, we get that. It will just take a few weeks. I think by Week 4 of the regular season, everybody will be like, 'How are the Raiders doing? How is he doing as a defensive lineman? Is he pressuring the quarterback? Is he getting sacks?’ It will be about what it always is about.”
Coming out, Collins said, tells people about you — and tells you about people.
“The best part of when you reveal your authentic self publicly is that it will allow those people around you, whether it's your teammates or people who you thought were friends, you will see their true colors come out,” he said.
“Some people who you might have thought would not be supporters end up being some of your biggest supporters. It's going to be an incredible experience for him. Humans can surprise you.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.