On Monday, Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib became the first active N.F.L. player to publicly declare that he is gay.
“I just want to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” Nassib said in a video posted to his Instagram account. “Sadly, I have agonized over this moment for the last 15 years,” he wrote in the same post.
Nassib, a five-year N.F.L. veteran who previously played with the Cleveland Browns and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said he was finally “comfortable getting it off my chest.”
Nassib, 28, thanked his coaches, teammates and the N.F.L. for their support.
“I would not be able to do this without them,” he wrote in his Instagram post.
In a statement Monday, Comissioner Roger Goodell said he was “proud of Carl for courageously sharing his truth today. Representation matters. We share his hope that someday soon statements like his will no longer be newsworthy as we march toward full equality for the LGBTQ+ community. We wish Carl the best of luck this coming season.”
The Raiders quickly showed their support for Nassib’s announcement, writing “proud of you, Carl” in a post to the team’s Twitter account that also included his original statement.
Nassib’s announcement was made during Pride Month, celebrated each June. He said he would donate $100,000 to The Trevor Project, a nonprofit group that focuses on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth.
Michael Sam, a defensive lineman who played college football at Missouri, announced he was gay before he was chosen in the seventh round of the 2014 draft. The Rams, then based in St. Louis, cut Sam at the end of training camp. The Dallas Cowboys signed him to their practice squad, but he never played in a regular season game.
Sam’s draft status was seen as a barometer of whether the N.F.L. was ready to accept an openly gay player, particularly because the N.B.A. broke that barrier in February 2014, when Jason Collins joined the Nets.
But Sam left the N.F.L. without making an impact on the field.
Nassib, by contrast, has already played with three teams over five seasons and is under contract through 2022. He played college football at Penn State and was chosen in the third round by the Browns in the 2016 draft. He played two seasons in Cleveland before playing two more seasons in Tampa. The Raiders signed him to a three-year, $25 million contract in March 2020. He has collected 20.5 sacks during his career.
A handful of N.F.L. players have come out as gay, but all after their playing careers were over. David Kopay became the first pro football player to publicly came out as gay in 1975, three years after he retired. He played for nine seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and four other teams in the 1960s and 1970s, and has since become an activist and an ambassador for the Gay Games, a quadrennial sporting event.
Roy Simmons was the second former player to announce that he was gay, doing so in 1992 after his career with the Giants and Washington Football Team had ended. He later disclosed he was H.I.V. positive and died from pneumonia-related complications in 2014 at age 57.
In a hypermasculine sport like football, players like Simmons said they felt they had no choice but to hide their sexual identity while they were in the league. Simmons said he cultivated a reputation for being the life of the party, and had to compartmentalize his football life and his personal life.
Simmons also said he never would have declared himself gay during the four seasons he played for the N.F.L. for fear of destroying his career.
‘’The N.F.L. has a reputation,” he said in 2003, “and it’s not even a verbal thing — it’s just known. You are gladiators; you are male; you kick butt.”
Sam’s announcement was unique because it came before he was drafted. Former N.F.L. players like Brendon Ayanbadejo, who played with the Baltimore Ravens, defended same-sex marriage and gay rights and supported Sam. But few current players publicly echoed his support.
Seven years since Sam’s announcement, Nassib has met with ready public support both from the league itself and the Raiders, a team that has previously made notable football milestones with its hires.
Tom Flores, who is Mexican-American was the first Latinx head coach in the N.F.L. and led the team to Super Bowl titles after the 1981 and 1983 seasons. Amy Trask in 1997 became the Raiders’ chief executive and the first woman of that rank in the N.F.L. The team drafted Eldridge Dickey, the first Black quarterback taken in the first round, in 1968, when the Raiders played in the A.F.L.