Carl Nassib: First active openly gay player 'historic' for NFL, says Ryan K Russell

By Nesta McGregorBBC Sport
Defensive end Carl Nassib #94 and offensive guard Patrick Omameh #78 of the Las Vegas Raiders
Carl Nassib (right) will be treated differently by team-mates - "but only in a positive way", Ryan K Russell says

"Young LGBTQ+ athletes will finally get to turn on a football game and see themselves represented - at the highest level and hopefully having lots of success."

Former Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills defensive end Ryan K Russell says he spent the day in a state of "elation" after watching a video in which Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out as gay.

It was a decision 28-year old Nassib revealed he had been agonising about making for 15 years.

"My reaction was just pure celebration and elation, obviously for Carl and his own happiness but also for male professional sports," Russell told BBC Sport.

"I got to send Carl a message of congratulations and he received it and appreciated it. I just wanted to let him know he has someone in his corner as well as obviously a lot of people rooting for him."

Nassib, who plays as a tight end for the Las Vegas Raiders, described himself as a "private person" and said he hoped that in the future, videos of athletes coming out won't be necessary.

Yet for Russell - who himself came out in August 2019 - Nassib's name will now be synonymous when talking about key sporting moments involving LGBTQ+ athletes.

"We've been chipping away in terms of inclusion in the NFL and this is a historic landmark," he said. "A year ago, this didn't seem possible.

"More players are going to come out. More players are going to be themselves.

"How we received them and how we act now will not only affect professional athletes but also the young children that look up to them."

In the 101-year history of the NFL, Nassib is the first active player to come out as gay although several players have done so after retirement or after leaving the league for other reasons.

In 2014, Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted by an NFL team, although he only went on to feature in practice squads - not competitive games.

Russell says the macho nature of the sport and its fanbase may have prevented athletes coming out before but he's optimistic about the future.

"I think in Carl's case he will definitely be treated differently by team-mates - but only in a positive way," he said.

"You know guys respect people who are honest and straightforward. The success of a team is built on the friendships and brotherhoods that you're able to build.

"And fans that really support the game will support him too.

"Naturally there's always going to be push back because there are always an ignorant few and I think that sometimes they can seem louder than the positive noise."

According to US TV network ESPN, sales of Nassib's jersey have rocketed since the announcement.

Raiders owner Mark Davis told the Las Vegas Review-Journal: "These are personal decisions. It's 2021, and he's a Raider. If he's happy, I'm happy. It takes courage.

"I thought we got to the point where this wasn't [a prominent news story]. It doesn't change my opinion of him as a man or as a Raider."

In a statement, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell added: "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."

It has also been suggested Nassib could be become one of the world's most recognisable athletes, with brands keen to work with him.

"I think brands such as Nike and Adidas are going to realise that by endorsing someone who's identified as LGBTQ, they just stand for someone who's innovative and future-thinking," Mike Hernandez, creative director at New York-based strategy agency The Mixx, told Reuters.

"And younger consumers care about that, even if they themselves don't identify as LGBTQ."

Being bisexual 'didn't even cross my mind as an option'

With the NFL season scheduled to start on 10 September, Russell is still hopeful of a slice of history. Currently a free agent, he has been sidelined with an injury since 2019 but says he has had successful surgery and is ready to return to action.

It means while Nassib is the first currently active player to come out, the race is still on for an openly gay player to take the field in a competitive match.

"Hopefully I'm also on a team trying to race him to that landmark," joked Russell.

"Either way, I'll be cheering for him and hoping that he has success and that they win and he's able to just break down these barriers and set these landmarks."

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