Carl Nassib has 20.5 sacks in his five-year NFL career.
He signed a three-year contract with the Las Vegas Raiders worth $25.25 million, with $16.75 million guaranteed.
The 28-year-old Nassib has financial security for life and, barring injury, at least a couple of more years as an NFL player.
It’s that last paragraph that has made Nassib a household name, but the previous three give context to why his coming out is profound and historic.
Nassib will never have to prove he’s “good enough” as a gay man to play in the NFL and he can be on the national stage showing his ability and inspiring young LGBTQ athletes into his 30s.
Is he “good enough” is something I have long heard about male athletes who have come out as gay and are not yet established.
We heard it about David Denson when he was a minor league prospect with the Milwaukee Brewers. Was he “good enough” to make the majors? (Denson retired and never played in Major League Baseball.)
We heard it about Derrick Gordon when he came out as the first openly gay Division I men’s basketball player. Was he “good enough” to make the NBA? (Gordon is now playing overseas.)
We will hear it about Yanic Duplessis, an elite-level hockey player from Canada who came out at 17 last year. Will he be “good enough” to progress up hockey’s talent ladder into the NHL?
And, most of all, we heard it and heard it and heard it in 2014 when Michael Sam declared before the NFL draft that he was gay. Pre-draft coverage was filled with dissecting his college career (where he was co-SEC defensive player of the year) and whether he was “good enough” to play in the NFL.
When he fell to one of the final picks of the draft, on the third day, the debate really began. Did he drop so far because of homophobia among certain owners, general managers and coaches? Or wasn’t Sam “good enough?”
Sam played in all four preseason games and registered three sacks. He seemed on track for a roster spot with the Rams. But he was among the final cuts and the debate intensified. He was “good enough” based on his preseason, some argued. He wasn’t “good enough,” others argued, since he played mostly against third- and fourth-stringers who themselves were cut.
When Sam was picked up and released by the Cowboys later that year, his NFL career was over, but not the questions of whether he wasn’t up to snuff as an NFL player or was judged in part by his sexual orientation. We still debate this.
Nassib doesn’t have to prove anything because he already has established himself by lasting five years going on six in a league where the average career is about three. The Browns thought he was “good enough” to draft in the third round and keep him for two years. After two seasons with Tampa, the Raiders signed him to his current deal in 2020.
Whether any of these teams knew he was gay when they drafted or signed him is irrelevant. He’s proven he can play and his coming out as gay came from a certain position of security. If he was cut tomorrow, he would walk away from the Raiders with millions and likely land on another roster.
He won’t be cut, but even if the Raiders for some part with him for performance reasons after the 2021 season, he will still have played a full year as an openly gay player and made history.
Nassib’s coming out confirms theories I and others have had about the type of player that could come out the easiest as gay in the major men’s sports.
The most obvious was a superstar, someone so obviously “good enough” that their talent was unassailable. Next were the Nassibs of the pro sports world — solid players, clearly “good enough” but not stars or household names. Then came college players with obvious early first-round talent any team could see, followed by people like Sam, talented but not in clear-cut they-will-make-any-roster way.
It’s obvious that Nassib knows he’s “good enough” and it showed in the way he came out. There was no news conference nor a publicist lining up media exclusives. While it’s obvious from their quick reaction that the league and Raiders knew something was afoot, Nassib shot a video in the backyard of his home in Pennsylvania, and posted it to Instagram as if he was telling friends about the party he went to the night before. Announcing he was giving $100,000 to the Trevor Project was an act of generosity that showed it wasn’t about him.
His video was up for at least a half-hour before Outsports wrote the first media story on it and before people noticed on social media (that’s an eternity in the Twitterverse). We heard about it from a longtime friend of the site who works in media and gave us a heads-up. From there it took off.
The way it was handled, in the dead part of the off-season six weeks before training camp, late in the workday on the East Coast and without fanfare, was a great example of planned nonchalance. Even the Raiders’ players reactions were positive but with a sense of a shrug, meaning this was not going to be the dreaded locker room “distraction.”
“My initial reaction was like, ‘Oh, that’s dope,’” star tight end Darren Waller told TMZ. “I feel like one day, maybe we’ll get to a point where if somebody says they are gay, like it won’t be this huge thing. It’s just like, hey that’s who he is, and he’s being who he is 100%.
“And so, it’s all respect, all love for Carl, but just because Carl came out and announced that, doesn’t mean he’s gonna be a different person. He’s gonna be the same person he’s been all along and we love having him on our team.”
Nassib didn’t want a lot of fuss (good luck with that) but he also did not need a coordinated media strategy to tell the world he was gay and an NFL player. He was an established veteran and long ago proved he was “good enough.” That’s historic.