The Browns drafted DE Carl Nassib out of Penn State in the third-round of the 2016 NFL draft. The defensive front was an area of great need for Cleveland, and Nassib was seen as a bit light but had good speed and just had an incredible season as a sack master.
Yesterday, Nassib, a member of the Las Vegas Raiders’ defense, announced on his Instagram account that he was gay.
So, why is this even a news story? He is not the first sports figure to be known as being gay. In fact, he is not even the first NFL player that is known for this.
Why then? Because he is the first to announce his sexual orientation while being an active member of an NFL club. That’s why.
There have been several players before Nassib, but each of those “came out” either after their playing days were over, or before the actual draft.
Nassib also said that he was willing to do his part “to cultivate a culture that’s accepting and compassionate.” To back up those words, he donated $100,000 to The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that strives to prevent suicide among LGBTQ youth in North America including the United States.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued this statement to the media yesterday afternoon:
“The NFL family is 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.”
Nassib played sparingly in his first two seasons at Penn State, but was a full-time starter his junior year and busted out with 15.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and 19.5 tackles for loss.
The Browns had just gone 3-13-0 in 2015 under head coach Mike Pettine with Jim O’Neil as defensive coordinator who featured the 3-4 defense. Pettine was then fired with Hue Jackson the new head coach and Ray Horton installed as DC who was looking for youth at either DE spot to supplant the aging Desmond Bryant and Randy Starks. Cleveland drafted Danny Shelton to play the nose tackle plus Emmanuel Ogbah and Nassib for the DE positions.
Nassib played just two seasons in Cleveland in which he started just 15 games but played in every contest. While with the Browns, he had 53 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 15 QB hits and nine batted passes.
At the end of training camp in 2018, Nassib survived the final cut. However, the following day he was one of five players who were waived after the front office put claims in for five other waiver wire players. Two of those claimed were DE Carl Davis from the Baltimore Ravens and former Minnesota Vikings DE Ifeadi Odenigbo.
The following day, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers put in a waiver claim for Nassib where he started 17 games in two seasons and had career years in sacks with 6.5 and 6.0, respectively.
Tampa allowed Nassib to test the free agent waters in 2020. He signed a three-year $25 million contract with Las Vegas in a dizzying period of inking five free agents in the first six hours. At the time, the Raiders site on SB Nation, Silver and Black Pride, had this to say about Nassib’s signing:
“Nassib is a solid rotational backup, who has some pass-rush burst. He is a stand-up pass-rusher, who had 6.5 sacks in 2019 and six sacks in 2018 for Tampa Bay. He has 18 sacks in four seasons with the Browns and Buccaneers.
Nassib, who turns 27 next month, went to Penn State. He should be a nice backup to Maxx Crosby, who had 10 sacks as a rookie. This isn’t a splash signing. But Nassib offers good depth and makes the Raiders’ defense better in the big picture.”
Nassib’s claim to fame while with Cleveland was his financial advice he gave to other players when the Browns were featured on the HBO series “Hard Knocks.”
In the history of the NFL, there hasn’t been a single announced gay player that has appeared in a regular season game. Currently, Nassib is listed as the third defensive end on the Raiders depth chart behind former Ravens’ DE Yannick Ngakoue and Malcolm Koonce.
The first NFL player to be known as being gay was running back Dave Kopay who played from 1964-1972 with one of his seasons with the Green Bay Packers. However, his sexual orientation was only known to Vince Lombardi, his head coach. Lombardi had a blind eye to both race and orientation, and had a brother who was gay. Lombardi was known for having zero tolerance towards racial slurs as well as homophobic disparagement.
Kopay formerly announced being gay in his 1977 biography The David Kopay Story.
Tight end Jerry Smith, who played for the Washington Redskins from 1965-1977, was later learned of being gay after he retired. Smith went to two Pro Bowls and is enshrined in the Redskins Ring of Fame. His double life as a star athlete plus a closeted gay man is portrayed in the NFL Network documentary A Football Life – Jerry Smith. Lombardi coached one year in Washington when Smith was a player there, and protected his orientation.
In recent memory, Michael Sam is famous for his announcement of being gay. But Sam came out prior to the NFL draft. In 2013, he was the SEC Defensive Player-of-the-Year, Unanimous All-American plus named First Team All-SEC.
After completing his college football career, Sam publicly announced that he was gay prior to the upcoming NFL draft. He was drafted in the seventh-round by the St. Louis Rams and thus became the first publicly gay player to be drafted into the NFL.
After being drafted by the Rams, Sam’s live televised kiss with his partner Vito Cammisano, a college swimmer, brought about a mixed bag of reactions among viewers.
The rub with Sam was that after his final season at Missouri, he had a draft projection of being taken in the third-round, but yet fell all the way to the final round. Speculators pointed to his disappointing Combine numbers’ plus he played at 6’-2” and 261 pounds for a defensive end who would be pitted against massive offensive tackles. Others pointed to his untimely “out process” and publicly wondered why he didn’t wait until the draft process was completed before making his announcement.
He lasted until the final round of cuts with the Rams. The Dallas Cowboys put in a claim for Sam where he participated on their practice squad for six weeks before being cut.
Sam then played for the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL and became the first openly gay player to play in a regular-season game in that league. Now 31-years old, he recently said this on Out.com:
“I sacrificed my career for me to live my life. That being said, it also helped a lot of people in the process. I have to believe that it helped people. Football gave me so much. It was my dream. If I could save some lives by sacrificing my career, that’s what I have, and I am grateful for it.”
Keep in mind the distinction of being the first to announce his sexual orientation while being an active member of an NFL club only applies as long as Nassib takes an actual snap in an NFL regular season game - which he is projected to do this upcoming season. If he lands on one of the many non-playing lists such as IR, or gets cut and not re-signed, then that distinction will be dangling waiting for him to suit up and take an actual snap.
The NFL appears to be fairly ready for a gay man to play into the regular season and beyond. But, they also weren’t.
Now that Nassib’s surprise announcement has been revealed, that decision was essentially made for them.