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Carl Nassib has distracted the Raiders to first place in the AFC West

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Our distraction meter puts to the test the idea that an openly gay NFL player would be a detriment to his team.

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Carl Nassib reacts after the Raiders’ win over the Eagles on Sunday.
Carl Nassib reacts after the Raiders’ win over the Eagles on Sunday.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For decades, we have heard that any NFL player who came out as openly gay would be a distraction to his team given the media and fan attention, seemingly endorsing the view that players should stay closeted. Carl Nassib, a defensive lineman for the Las Vegas Raiders, is testing this theory in 2021 after he came out publicly in June.

Week 7 (Oct. 24): at Raiders 33, Eagles 22

Nassib had one tackle and one near sack of Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts as the Raiders won their second game since Jon Gruden resigned as coach following the release of racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic emails. With the win, the Raiders are alone in first place in the AFC West, a half-game ahead of the idle L.A. Chargers.

Distraction meter: 0

Notable: On Twitter, Eagles fan Ben Livingston, who describes himself as “America’s only gay sports radio personality turned data scientist,” tweeted about a cool moment he and his boyfriend Scott, had at the game in Las Vegas:

“A Raiders fan from Iowa saw my boyfriend’s Carl Nassib jersey and offered to send us a signed Nassib rookie card.”

Livingston, who was a producer at sports talk radio WIP in Philadelphia before moving to New York, gave me some of the background: “We were approached inside the gate, he [the fan] saw my boyfriend’s jersey (I wasn’t wearing mine at the moment. I’m an Eagles fan but he’s a big Raiders fan) and made the offer out of the blue. Said he bought it online when the story came out because he figured it would be a nice thing to have.”

Ben Livingston, left, and his boyfriend, Scott, rocking their Nassib jerseys in Las Vegas.
Ben Livingston, left, and his boyfriend, Scott, rocking their Nassib jerseys in Las Vegas.
Ben Livingston
Ben Livingston, left, and his boyfriend, Scott, rocking their Nassib jerseys in Las Vegas.
Livingston is an Eagles fan and Scott is a Raiders fan.
Ben Livingston

Week 6 (Oct. 17): Raiders 34, Broncos 24

Nassib had one tackle as the Raiders went into Denver and snapped a two-game losing streak and move to 4-2, tied with the Chargers in the AFC West.

Distraction meter: 0

Notable: The Raiders played their most complete game of the season under interim coach Rich Bisaccia, hired after Jon Gruden was forced to resign following the release of his emails that were homophobic, racist, sexist and transphobic.

Last week, two days after the first batch of emails was released, the Raiders played their worst game of the season in a loss to the Bears, proving that Gruden was a huge distraction. Now that he’s gone, the Raiders look like a new and improved team, at least after one game.

In the wake of Gruden’s resignation and with the revelation that his coach used anti-gay slurs regularly, Nassib took a day off from practice. His decision was met with full support from star tight end Darren Waller.

I support that [the absence] 100 percent,” Waller said via The Athletic.com. “He’s pretty much a lone wolf when it comes to that. Nobody should be able to tell him how to feel. Nobody should be able to tell him how to grieve. He deserves to take time for himself because that’s a lot to process.

“Somebody that you’ve been invested in, battled with and you come out and there’s a quote that says something like what was said, I can’t imagine what he must be feeling and I respect him wanting to take his space and be able to come back clear-headed.”

During the CBS TV broadcast, the announcers said they requested Nassib to come to their pre-game production meeting, but he declined. He is clearly not ready to talk about what transpired under Gruden.

Week 5 (Oct. 10): Bears 20, Raiders 9

It was a quiet day for Nassib and frustrating day for the Raiders, who lost their second straight game to fall to 3-2. The defensive lineman did not record a tackle for the first time all season. But he was hardly alone. The Raiders just weren’t competitive in this one. They’re now tied for second in the AFC West with the Denver Broncos.

Distraction meter: 0

Quotable: “This is my third team in the league and I’ve played in every single stadium and I’ve never heard fans like Raiders fans,” Nassib said in an interview with Raiders.com (his segment starts at 17:50). “I think Penn State has the best college environment, I think we [Raiders] have the best NFL environment, by far. There absolutely insane. I really love how intense they are, how much they love us, how much they support us.”

What I loved about this interview was that is was all football-oriented and didn’t focus on Nassib being gay. There’s clearly a time and place for that, but it needn’t be the issue in every interview. He’s a football player who happens to be gay.

Week 4 (Oct. 4): at Chargers 28, Raiders 14

Nassib had one tackle and twice pressured Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert on Monday Night, just missing a sack each time. The Raiders lost for the first time this season and are now 3-1, tied for the top spot in the AFC West. Distraction meter: 0

Notable: Nassib announced that he has a boyfriend.

Quotable: This tweet stood out in a sea of mostly lame jokes on Twitter about Nassib as actually being clever and not offensive: “Carl Nassib just tackled Justin Jackson, and I’m pretty sure that’s the first time an out gay man has tackled a Democratic Socialist in the history of the NFL.” Jackson, a Chargers running back, is pretty much to the left of Bernie Sanders politically.

Week 3 (Sept. 26): at Raiders 31, Dolphins 28 (OT)

Nassib had a great game Sunday, with one solo tackle and assists on three other tackles. His best play was late in the second quarter when his wide rush led to a sack of Dolphins QB Jacoby Brissett; Nassib got credit for a 12 sack with teammate Solomon Thomas. The Raiders went to 3-0 for the first time since 2002, the last year they went to the Super Bowl. It was the Raiders’ second overtime win this season. Distraction meter: 0

Notable: For years, one fear people had about a player coming out as gay would be a loss of endorsements. How things have changed. You can buy a Nassib T-shirt or hoodie, licensed by the NFL Players’ Assn.

Week 2 (Sept. 19): Raiders 26, at Steelers 17

Nassib was limited with an injured pectoral muscle and recorded one tackle. The touchdown-underdog Raiders went on the road and upset Pittsburgh to go to 2-0. Distraction meter (0-10, 10 being highest): 0

Quotable: When Nassib came out, one of his biggest supporters was Zach Banner, a Steelers offensive lineman who played with Nassib when both were on the Cleveland Browns.

“Before he even came out, you know he’s not only a good person but a great teammate,” Banner said. “I empathize for not only the gay community but the LGBTQ+ community and everything that really falls underneath the category of someone’s sexuality. In no way or form have I ever discriminated against something like that. I’m not built like that. Honestly, sometimes I really don’t understand how you can hate somebody for who they love and what they do.

“If he was in my locker room, I would totally, completely support him, which a lot of his guys with the Raiders have,” Banner said. “They’ve done it publicly, and the reasons that that’s important is, some people get pissed off about it, but those are the same people that are kind of really holding us back. Their mindset and opinions are really irrelevant. It’s not so much just a support in Carl, but supporting kids like Carl who don’t have that outlet, who sometimes don’t have that support, who don’t have the financial means to be just fine with living their lifestyle regardless of what anybody cares about it. Who are bullied. Who are sometimes forced into suicide and to hurting themselves.”

Baltimore Ravens v Las Vegas Raiders
Carl Nassib with his teammates against the Baltimore Ravens.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Week 1 (Sept. 13): at Raiders 33, at Steelers 27 (OT)

Nassib was a star in his first game as an openly gay player, recording three tackles and a sack/forced fumble in a wild overtime to set up the Raiders’ game-winning score and go 1-0. Distraction meter: 0.

Quotable: “A lot of firsts today,” Nassib said after the game. “I was really taking it in as much as I could... I’ve played in a lot of games... and I won’t forget this one.”