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Gay and bi former NFL players excited to see Carl Nassib take the field for Raiders

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Those who came before Carl Nassib as gay NFL players, will be among his biggest cheerleaders Monday night.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams Joint Practice
Carl Nassib will see his first action Monday night for the Las Vegas Raiders
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Update: Carl Nassib forced the game-winning fumble against the Ravens in his first game after coming out. A Hollywood ending.

Dave Kopay will be watching Carl Nassib on Monday night with a sense of pride and a feeling of it’s about time.

“It will be emotional, hugely emotional,” Kopay, 79, said of what he’s expecting Monday night as he sits at his home in Los Angeles watching Nassib take the field for the Las Vegas Raiders as the first openly gay player in NFL history on an active roster.

“There’s a few of us that paved the way and it makes me incredibly happy,” Kopay said. “It’s absolutely fucking huge.”

Kopay has waited a long time to see an openly gay player in action, having ended his nine-year NFL career in 1972 and then coming out as gay in 1975. He has often said that he expected a parade of out players to follow him, but it’s a parade that would barely fill a large living room.

In all, there have been 16 gay or bi players in NFL history, and 10 have played in a regular season game. At some point Monday night, Nassib will become the first to do it with the entire world knowing he’s gay. Kopay was among these former players Outsports reached out to for their reaction on Nassib’s big night.

For Ryan O’Callaghan, this will be the first NFL regular season game he’s watched in four years. The former offensive linemen for the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs isn’t much of a football fan, but watching Nassib play in his first game since coming out, he said, gives him a reason to watch.

“What he did takes a lot of courage,” O’Callaghan said. “When he steps on the field tonight he’s the first one to ever do it. Him doing that’s huge for all the closeted players out there and the whole LGBTQ community.”

O’Callaghan said if a player had come out publicly while he was playing, he would have marveled at his courage, but he’s not sure it would have helped do the same.

“I was mostly concerned about family,” O’Callaghan said. “Everyone has their own reasons for being where they are on their own journey.”

Jeff Rohrer, a former Dallas Cowboys linebacker who came out as gay in 2018, also reflected on the impact of this moment.

“Carl’s first game in the NFL as an openly gay man is a landmark for the league,” Rohrer said. “Although this story is historical and important to all of us in the LBGTQ community … I agree with Carl that the best days are still to come when a human being being gay no matter what they do ... is not a story at all.”

What inspires Rohrer is that those opposed to someone gay playing openly in the NFL are part of a shrinking base that is growing ever smaller at a fast pace.

“There will always be LBGTQ haters out there,” said Rohrer, who played for the legendary Cowboys coach Tom Landry, “but haters are going the way of the dinosaurs … eventual extinction.”

Those feelings echo the sentiments of R.K. Russell, who played three seasons as a defensive end in the NFL before publicly coming out as bisexual in 2019. He says Nassib’s coming out, and the widespread support he’s received, proves openly LGBTQ players belong in the NFL.

“There is someone in the league right now on the roster, primed to be out there for the opening week of the NFL, and we haven’t heard about this media disruption or guys in the locker room, or all of the kind of very unproven reasons to maybe not have an LGBTQ+ player on your team,” he said. “They’ve all officially, officially been debunked.”

In fact, Russell thinks Nassib coming out will only make the Raiders stronger.

“The locker room is a place where you’re supposed to have people of all different cultures, backgrounds, experiences, races, and everything to make your team the best team possible,” he said.

Esera Tuaolo, who played in various Monday Night Football games and a Super Bowl, said what makes him happiest is we now have the answer to a question he’s been asked more than any other.

“I’ve ben speaking for the last 17 years around the country,” Tuaolo said. “The number one question has always been, when is the first active out player going to play. We now have the answer to that question, and that makes me so happy. I’m so proud of him and so happy how we’re moving forward.”

When Rohrer came out publicly by marrying Joshua Ross, he was steeling himself for negativity, but the reactions delighted him.

“When I came out and married Josh ... many of my friends and family were quite shocked. I was prepared for the worst,” Rohrer said. “Me coming out changed a lot of minds on gay acceptance. It also opened my eyes to how compassionate, loving and accepting most Americans really are when given the chance.”

Kopay said he has been struck by how intelligent and secure Nassib has been about coming out, and also authentic. He contrasted it with the emotional anguish and turmoil he experienced playing mainly for the 49ers, Lions and Redskins and how he took great pains to act hypermasculine so as to not be discovered.

“I think it’s special,” Kopay said about how Nassib has handled the attention. “He’s done so much for gay community.”

Rohrer also recognizes the power of Nassib coming out in the most popular sport in the country and what that can show LGBTQ athletes in other sports.

“Having Carl as an ambassador and as a proud member of the LGBTQ community playing professional football will without question have an impact on the American perception of what it means to be a football player,” Rohrer said. “Because of Carl’s bravery to come out and be who he was born to be, he has paved the way for those who will follow in the world of football.”