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There’s an openly gay player in the NFL preseason and nobody cares

Why the media yawning over Carl Nassib at the Las Vegas Raiders camp is ultimately a good thing.

Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders
Carl Nassib is simply part of the Las Vegas Raideres team.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Aug. 6: (Nassib did speak to the media, see update at end)

An openly gay player is in an NFL training camp and the response has basically been crickets. It’s a story both puzzling and promising.

Carl Nassib joined his Las Vegas Raiders teammates last week and in the first seven days of practice, the only mention I could find discussing his coming out as gay last month was a short interview with Raiders coach Jon Gruden.

“We really like Carl,” Gruden told NFL Network. “If you don’t know Carl, you’ll love him when you meet him. He’s one of our leaders, he’s one of our highest-paid defensive lineman. Al Davis taught me a long time ago, ‘What makes a man great is what makes him different. What makes a man different is what makes him great.’ Everybody’s different, no one’s the same and we’ve got to respect that. Carl Nassib’s a heck of a football player. I just hope he gets to the quarterback a lot.”

So much for a gay player being a distraction. Gruden cares a lot more about one of his highest-paid defenders getting more sacks this season (given the Raiders’ defense in 2020, I would too).

The puzzling part is obvious. The theory for years is that an openly gay NFL player would result in a media circus, but in the Raiders case it’s more of a flea circus. I messaged a Raiders beat writer about Nassib being gay and his reply was that “it hasn’t come up yet.”

I can’t find out for sure, but I guess that Nassib does not want to discuss being gay, letting his June coming out video statement speak for itself. If those are his wishes, it would seem churlish to badger him, because his sexual orientation has zero to do with how he can perform a pass-rushing drill.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders Training Camp
Carl Nassib does a drill at camp.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

I have a ton questions for Nassib: When did you first decide to come out publicly? Had you given a heads-up to anyone with the Raiders (quarterback Derek Carr didn’t know)? What has the reaction been from players, fans and, most importantly, young LGBTQ athletes who might have been struggling? Tell me about the first time you realized you were gay? When did you first learn to accept yourself?

I could go on and yet I realize that training camp — when Nassib’s focus is getting as much playing time as possible — might not be the best time for a probing, personal interview. I really want to know about Nassib’s journey of self-acceptance and hope I can ask him some time. But beat writers are much more interested in the position battles, injuries, etc. So I have to be content with an endearing anecdote about how Nassib helped an elderly couple at an airport.

That’s why ultimately the media treatment of Nassib during camp is promising. Advocates for LGBTQ athletes have longed for the day where a coming out is a couple-of-days story and not a media obsession.

The goal is to normalize the coming out experience and make it just one facet of who the athlete is, making it more routine and less scary. If the media think Carl Nassib is just one of dozens at training camp — and even a bit boring — that’s a step in the right direction.

Update: On Aug. 6, Nassib did speak to the media. Among the highlights:

“Today, I feel better,” Nassib said on Friday morning in his first session with media members since his June announcement that he is gay.

“(At the beginning of training camp), being the only out player, my body felt like jello. I was very anxious. I just wanted to get this over with and feel better today than I did yesterday and the day before and I will feel better tomorrow. I’m just looking forward to the future.”

“It was definitely stressful growing up being in the closet, it’s definitely a weight lifted off of me,” a calm. confident Nassib said. “It’s been good not to lie at work.”

Video here.