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Meet the 16 out gay and bi football players in the NFL’s 104-year history

Carl Nassib is the first to ever play a down as openly gay, but the rest are still trailblazers.

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Among the gay players in NFL history are, clockwise from top right, Jeff Rohrer, Kwame Harris, Ryan O’Callaghan and Carl Nassib.
Among the gay players in NFL history are, clockwise from top right, Jeff Rohrer, Kwame Harris, Ryan O’Callaghan and Carl Nassib.
Illustration by Shelby Weldon / Outsports with Getty Images photos

The NFL has played for more than 1,000 years and there have been 16 gay or bi players to come out publicly.

Carl Nassib is No. 16 and the first one to come out as gay while on an active roster. After being cut by the Raiders following the 2021 season, Nassib signed on Aug. 15, 2022, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team he played for in 2018 and 2019. Nassib played with the Bucs in 2022 and retired from the NFL on Sept. 6.

To only have 16 out players among the thousands who have been on preseason, practice squad or regular season NFL rosters (23,000 and counting in a survey done in 2014) is barely a blip and shows the stigma that still surrounds people who play football. Over the years, Outsports has known of a few other players who are gay but have never come out, even when retired. Dave Kopay was the first player to come out, in 1975, three years after retiring after a nine-year career.

“There’s a few of us that paved the way and it makes me incredibly happy,” Kopay said about Nassib playing in the regular season.

Despite their small numbers, these 16 are trailblazers and have inspired many LGBTQ people in sports and every walk of life, so they are to be applauded.

Here is the list of football players in the NFL who have come out:

Denver Post Archives
Dave Kopay, shown in 1977, played for nine seasons in the NFL.
Denver Post via Getty Images

Played in a regular season game

Dave Kopay (1964-72): Running back with the 49ers, Lions, Washington, Saints, and Packers.

Jerry Smith (1965-77): Tight end with Washington. The NFL Network produced a documentary on Smith being gay.

Ray McDonald (1967-68): Running back with Washington.

Roy Simmons (1979-83): Offensive lineman with the Giants and Redskins.

Jeff Rohrer (1982-89): Linebacker with the Dallas Cowboys.

Esera Tuaolo (1991-99: Defensive tackle with the Packers, Vikings, Jaguars, Falcons and Panthers. Played in the Super Bowl with the 1998 Falcons.

Kwame Harris (2003-08): Offensive lineman with the 49ers and Raiders.

Ryan O’Callaghan (2006-11): Offensive lineman with the Patriots and Chiefs. Played in the Super Bowl with the 2007 Patriots.

Ryan Russell (2015-17, spent 2018 in Bills camp): Defensive lineman with the Buccaneers and Cowboys. Identifies as bisexual.

Carl Nassib (2016-22): Defensive lineman with the Browns, Buccaneers and Raiders.

New York Jets vs New England Patriots
Ryan O’Callaghan, right, with Tom Brady during O’Callaghan’s time with the New England Patriots. He also blocked for Aaron Rodgers while both played in college at Cal.

Attended training camp

Wade Davis (2000-03): Wide receiver with the Titans, Seahawks and Washington.

Dorien Bryant (2008): Wide receiver with the Steelers.

Martin Jenkins (1977): Defensive back with the Seahawks.

Brad Thorson (2011): Offensive lineman with the Cardinals.

Michael Sam (2014): Defensive end with the Rams. Also on the Cowboys practice squad.

Colton Underwood (2014-20): Tight end had preseason or practice squad stints with the Chargers, Eagles and Raiders.

2020 update

In October, Martin Jenkins, a former defensive back for the Seattle Seahawks, was nominated to the California Supreme Court. Jenkins is gay and this was the first time he widely discussed his sexual orientation.

2021 update

In April, Colton Underwood came out publicly. The star of “The Bachelor” said he has been struggling with his sexuality his whole life.

In June, Carl Nassib of the Raiders came out as gay.

2022 update

In August, Carl Nassib signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

2023 update

Carl Nassib retired from the NFL after seven seasons.

(This story first ran in 2019 and is updated when new players come out.)