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Sensemaker audio

A moment of pride in the NFL

A moment of pride in the NFL

No professional American footballer has ever come out as gay while he was still playing. That changed this week thanks to Carl Nassib.


transcript

Hi, I’m Claudia – and this is Sensemaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, the first ever professional American football player to come out as gay while he’s still playing.

***

“What’s up people? I’m Carl Nassib… I just want to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay.”

Carl Nassib speaking on Instagram

Carl Nassib is a defensive lineman for the Las Vegas Raiders. He’s 6ft 7, he weighs 124kg… and he just made history.

At 28-years old, Carl Nassib has just become the first openly gay player in the NFL’s 101-year history.

“I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now but finally feel comfortable getting it off my chest. I really have the best life, the best family, friends and job a guy can ask for.”

Carl Nassib speaking on Instagram

Carl Nassib made the announcement in a video on Instagram during Pride Month and it’s a huge turning point for the league. 

It’s not a secret that gay players have come out before, but they all feared a backlash from their employers, fans, and even their own teammates. So they only came out when it felt safer: after they’d finished playing. 

But after 15 years of agonising, Carl Nassib just changed that. 

“I’m a pretty private person so I hope you guys know that I’m not doing this for attention.”

Carl Nassib speaking on Instagram

The Raiders welcomed his announcement, and individual teammates posted messages of support. 

While the NFL’s chief, Roger Goodell, said the league is proud of Carl for “courageously sharing his truth”.  

“This is the National Football League and the mere fact that no active player had ever done this before is all you need to know about what a big deal it is.”

Steve Buckley, Columnist, The Athletic

Representation and visibility matter. Making the NFL more compassionate and accepting matters. But there was something else that Carl Nassib stressed in his Instagram post.  

So the question is: why now?

***

“Nassib is also announcing that he is going to donate $100,000 to the Trevor Project… that’s a non-profit that focuses on suicide prevention programmes for LGBTQ youth.”

CBS News

In his video, Carl Nassib announced a big donation to a suicide prevention lifeline for LGBTQ young people under the age of 25. 

Studies of LGBTQ youth have found they contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of young heterosexual people. And they’re almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide. 

Here’s Jack Drescher, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College:

“There is evidence to suggest that there may be an increased risk of suicide in the LGBT population. Most people believe that’s because of social determinants.”

Jack Drescher, clinical professor of psychiatry, New York Medical College

So, employment discrimination, discrimination in education and healthcare access. Familial rejection and bullying at school or work.

And cultural questions are really important too. So it’s no wonder that, in the macho and often homophobic world of American football, so few players have come out.

“We know that there is still enormous discrimination in society against LGBTQ people and we know that LGBTQ people in sports or who want to participate in sports, face that.”

Amit Paley, CEO, Trevor Project speaking on ABC News

So what, then, does Carl Nassib’s announcement mean?

***

Carl Nassib said he wanted to “cultivate a culture that’s accepting and compassionate.” He said he’d agonised over coming out for the past 15 years – for more than half of his life.

Among the top five crisis topics that the Trevor Project receives on its suicide prevention lifeline, are “Coming out” and “Family”.

We know from research into the issue that family rejection contributes massively to LGBT youth suicide. 

We also know that reforms which promote LGBT inclusion and acceptance, like the introduction of same-sex marriage, can be associated with reductions in suicides among LGBT youth – and that the positive effects persist over time.

“I mean imagine what you would feel like if you were a child and politicians were talking about your rights as if you were a political pawn.”

Amit Paley, CEO, Trevor Project speaking on ABC News

The beauty of a role model like Carl Nassib is that he smashes stereotypes.

And that’s where the power of his announcement lies. It’s not important just for the NFL or, even, just for Carl Nassib: it’s a signal to the millions of LGBT youth that acceptance and compassion can break out anywhere – even in the NFL.

Today’s story was written by Paul Caruana-Galizia and produced by Imy Harper.


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