Carl Nassib has retired from playing in the NFL, joining a legacy of out gay athletes in major men’s pro sports who have come out and found success.
Yet there is still a false notion that gay men can’t be out and successful in American pro sports.
It boggles the mind.
We’ve now had four active, rostered players come out publicly in the men’s Big Five sports.
Robbie Rogers came out in 2013 while signed with the Chicago Fire. After coming out, the LA Galaxy traded the then-leading-scorer in Major League Soccer and eventual league MVP — Mike Magee — to the Fire for Rogers, who never took the pitch for the Fire and hadn’t played in the U.S. in a couple years.
Rogers went on to play a key role in the Galaxy’s MLS Cup title — the second of his career — 18 months later.
Jason Collins came out publicly a couple months after Rogers, when his contract with the Washington Wizards had ended. Collins was later signed by the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets then went on a win streak after his signing, going 19-8 to end the regular season and pulling off a first-round upset of the Toronto Raptors, winning Game 7 in Toronto.
Nassib famously made a game-saving sack-fumble in his first game for the Las Vegas Raiders after coming out publicly, eventually signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the season. Both teams with Nassib on the roster went to the NFL Playoffs.
The fourth player is soccer player Collin Martin, whose career seems to have been unaffected by coming out. While he came out while playing for the Minnesota United, he had been going back and forth between MLS clubs and the USL. He now plays for the San Diego Loyal.
The three who have retired — Rogers, Collins and now Nassib — have done so on their own terms.
Rogers fell in love with Hollywood producer Greg Berlanti and, after injuries took their toll, retired and has become a successful entertainment producer himself.
Collins retired after 13 seasons in the NBA, coming off the bench well before he came out and contributing as a back-up. He has been a powerful voice for LGBTQ inclusion in the NBA ever since.
Nassib told me over the phone months ago that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to return to playing in the NFL. His Rayze app — helping philanthropy groups find volunteers — has drawn his passion, and he simply wants to focus on that instead of the physical and mental rigor of the NFL.
“I am so excited for the next chapter of my life and to give Rayze everything I have,” Nassib wrote in his farewell Instagram post.
Martin’s story hasn’t ended, as he’s still playing for the Loyal. We’ll be watching to see what happens, as the Loyal have announced the club is folding after this season.
Four out gay players.
Every single one signed by a new team after coming out.
Every single one helping their team to on-field success, with one winning a league title.
The first three of them choosing for themselves when they stop playing.
Yet the attitude persists that gay men will find trouble coming out in pro sports. As the thinking goes, despite these concrete examples, out gay athletes will be shunned by teammates in men’s sports, rejected by general managers and forced out of the league.
Where does this come from?
Agents and the news media.
I know for a fact that some managers and agents have dissuaded athletes from coming out over time. Agents are extremely powerful forces in the lives of these players, whose average career lasts only a few years.
Agents need to stop fear-mongering about athletes coming out.
The news media also has a role to play. Handling gay athletes with sensationalism doesn’t help. Plus, the questions reporters ask in interviews far too often have the same tone.
“What struggles do gay athletes experience?”
“What hurdles do gay athletes face?”
“Why is it so hard to come out in men’s sports?”
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, with the media — even with its questions — telling people that men’s sports are an inhospitable place for out gay athletes.
It’s utter nonsense.
Nassib is the latest gay athlete to show the world that you can be an out, proud gay man with a boyfriend and succeed in major men’s sports.
With now no out active players in the Big Five in the United States, hopefully more athletes will see that they can be their true selves.