Carl Nassib signing a one-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could go down as one of the most important moments in LGBT history.
Coming out publicly as a gay pro athlete takes a ton of courage. It mandates the person — particularly a gay or bi male athlete — welcome some form of attention for sharing his true self, which could at times feel a bit overwhelming. Given the very few publicly out gay pro athletes, it can also create some feeling of loneliness.
Yet for me, the importance of Nassib and the Bucs agreeing to work together for the next year goes even beyond that in importance.
This is a team with a new head coach (albeit one who has worked previously with Nassib), a quarterback (Tom Brady) who wasn’t around when Nassib was previously on the team, and a real shot at winning a Super Bowl, who decided that they’d sign him.
No team — just based on publicity and appearance — would cut a player shortly after he came out.
But for a “new” team to go out and sign a player who is already out?
This isn’t to take away from the moment any athlete — Nassib, Jason Collins, Robbie Rogers— came out. Now almost a decade ago, each of them got signed by a team after coming out too. And the moment each of them was signed was rightly heralded as a huge moment.
To be sure, I count Collins signing with the Brooklyn Nets, Rogers winning an MLS Cup with the LA Galaxy, as well as Michael Sam being drafted by the St. Louis Rams, as monumental moments for the history of the LGBT community and their respective leagues. They helped really start the conversation about out gay athletes in men’s pro sports.
This signing of Nassib feels like the beginning of the final chapter of that same conversation, that after this move, people claiming that men’s pro sports broadly hate gay athletes (and yes, this is still a claim) simply have no leg to stand on.
For his part, Nassib and his agent played this perfectly. Athletes can be undermined by a quick signing that gets them into a clubhouse faster (Nassib has essentially been on the market for almost a half-year). But without a great situation or strong financial aspect to a contract, it can go poorly for the athlete.
Nassib played it smart as a veteran with a proven track record, waiting for what feels like a good situation.
As Fox Sports NFL writer Henry McKenna told Alex Reimer on his Sports Kiki podcast this week, while some people were concerned that homophobia was the reason Nassib hadn’t yet signed with a team, the wait was “not too unusual for a guy who’s a former starter to not quite have a deal yet. For example, sometimes they just want a little more money than other teams are willing to give them.”
This news also comes just a few days after another out gay professional athlete — Solomon Bates — signed with the Sioux City Explorers after coming out.
In a matter of the last five days, two different out gay professional athletes have signed with different teams in different states in different sports and different leagues.
Sports. Have. Changed.
It is also of note that those two teams are in states with Republican governors, two Republican Senators and who each voted for Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump twice.
In other words: These are teams representing more-conservative areas who understand their players and fanbases will accept these gay athletes.
This also shatters all of the chatter I saw on social media from some corners of the LGBT community claiming that the NFL and its anti-gay forces would prevent Nassib from every playing in the league again. This was always a flat-out untruth, based on old stereotypes and misinformation.
Yet some LGBT people feel the need to cling to old stereotypes of athletes as they remember them in gym class, teasing the gay kids. Athletes have changed, and it’s great to see a team like the Buccaneers acknowledge that by signing Nassib they only help their chance of winning another Lombardi Trophy.
I’ve said for years that if a team can’t handle a gay athlete in the locker room, they should fire their general manager and coaching staff, and find some new team captains — It would be a failure of leadership.
Nassib now walks into a locker room with strong leadership — for example, quarterback Tom Brady — and a coaching staff — head coach Todd Bowles has been in the league for 20 years — with the same.
Is this Stonewall? No.
Yet the NFL is king in America. Football is the most powerful cultural institution in the United States, and the NFL is the most powerful extension of the sport.
The Bucs signing Nassib sends a message to every single gay athlete hoping to make it in professional sports that, yes, if they can produce in game-time situations, they can be out and proud and have a career, even for a team with a real shot at the Super Bowl.
And gay fans everywhere — and even LGBT people who couldn’t care less about the NFL — have a powerful reason to cheer for the Bucs this season. If Nassib was able to walk away from his career with a Super Bowl ring... we can only hope.