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We should care about Carl Nassib because he might have saved a life

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Carl Nassib is gay and many among the rabble say they don't care.

We know this because they rushed to their keyboards on Monday and used various social media platforms to confirm they don't care, which would indicate that they do, in fact, care.

I mean, if you truly don't give a tinker's damn that the National Football League has its first active openly gay player, you don't become a keyboard warrior and insert your two cents worth of opinion into a discussion you claim to have no interest in.

Question is: Why should anyone care?

We are, after all, into the third decade of the 21st century and you'd think by now a gay man coming out would be your basic dog-bites-man story. Which is to say, no story at all.

Except that isn't the way it shakes down, even in the year 2021.

In female sports—professional/amateur, team/individual—gay athletes are as commonplace as fresh bread in a bake shop. They have won WNBA championships, they have won tennis Grand Slam tournaments, they have harvested Olympic medals of three different hues. They become power couples (see hoops legend Sue Bird and soccer star Megan Rapinoe). They get married (see U.S. national footy team members Ali Kreiger and Ashly Harris). They have kids (see hockey stars Meghan Duggan and Gillian Apps/Julie Chu and Caroline Ouellette).

A female athlete coming out is generally met with a shrug of the shoulders, in part due to the antiquated and misguided assumption that any girl/woman who chooses to participate in "manly" sports like hoops and hockey must be lesbian.

Male jocks, on the other hand, operate in a different world. No, check that. They roam a different galaxy.

There have been 15 gay or bisexual players in the NFL, all coming out post-career until Nassib dropped his bombshell via Instagram. Glenn Burke was out to everyone in Major League Baseball in the 1970s, but it was hush-hush beyond the ballpark. The National Basketball Association has featured one active openly gay player, Jason Collins, while others came out post-career. Major League Soccer has had two out players, while the National Hockey League has never known an openly gay player, past or present.

That's it. Approximately two dozen gays in North America's top five men's pro sports leagues. All-time.

But, again, why should anyone care?

Well, try this: It's quite possible (probable?) that Carl Nassib saved a life when he came out on Monday.

There's a gay kid out there who was feeling abandoned and alone, a kid on the edge, a kid convinced he couldn't take another dose of the bullying and mental torment that so many LGBT(etc.) youth experience and endure. He wasn't simply prepared to quit sports, suicide seemed like an option with merit.

Then along comes Nassib, a stud of a man—6-feet-7, 275 pounds—and a defensive lineman with the Las Vegas Raiders, after previous tours of duty with the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Suddenly the light of hope radiates.

Too dramatic for you? Not if you truly care.

That kid has a name, we just don't know it yet. But we might hear from him one day when he becomes a doctor, a lawyer, a political leader, a college prof or an NFL player and he points to Nassib's bold decision as the reason he didn't surrender to those who hate.

And, be sure, Nassib's coming out wasn't as simple a task as folding laundry. It never is.

The Raiders DE said he "agonized" over this decision for 15 years, and anyone in the LGBT(etc.) collective will nod knowingly, because it tends to be a lengthy struggle, one that can gnaw at you for years, like a dog on a chew toy. It plants the seeds of alienation, abandonment, rejection and hate, all filed under 'F' for fear.

Thus, for Nassib to come out while active in the Goliath of macho men's team sports, that's ballsy.

Make no mistake, Nassib isn't anyone's idea of an NFL Pro Bowler. He's listed third on the Raiders depth chart at right DE. But he can still serve as a Pied Piper to those who remain in the closet, even if he isn't interested in becoming the feature attraction in a media circus.

Unlike Michael Sam after he'd been drafted by the St. Louis Rams, Nassib doesn't seem inclined toward an appearance on Dancing with the Stars or being dogged by Oprah's cameras.

"I'm a pretty private person so I hope you guys know that I'm really not doing this for attention," he said. "I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that one day, videos like this and the whole coming out process are not necessary, but until then I am gonna do my best and do my part to cultivate a culture that's accepting that's compassionate."

Sometimes it only takes one, and hopefully Carl Nassib is the right one for men's pro sports.