By Terrance Turner
Aug. 15, 2022 (updated Sept. 12, 2022)
Last night, “Sunday Night Football” kicked off its 17th season in Arlington, Texas, with a game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys. Inside AT&T Stadium, the Cowboys defense managed to (temporarily) slow down Tampa Bay’s offense, limiting them to just four field goals in the first half. But the Bucs defense was even better, allowing the Cowboys to only score three points the whole game.
One part of that defense is a (literally) game-changing figure. Though he wasn’t featured in the player introductions, eagle-eyed viewers may have spotted #94 on the field at some point. That would be Buccaneers defensive end Carl Nassib — the first active NFL player to come out.
In mid-August, word broke that Nassib was signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to ESPN. According to Outsports, Nassib will be playing for the Buccaneers as an outside linebacker. (While defensive ends play on the line, outside linebackers play just behind them outside the interior.) This signing returned Nassib to the team where he made the most impact on the field.
After two seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Nassib was cut in 2018 and then claimed by the Buccaneers. He spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons there. According to USA Today, “Those two seasons were easily his most productive as an NFL player […] In 2018 in particular, he had career highs in sacks (6.5), QB hits (14), and tackles for loss (12). In 2019, Todd Bowles took over as defensive coordinator and Nassib put up six sacks, 11 QB hits, and eight tackles for loss. Bowles is now the head coach in Tampa.”
After hitting the open market in 2020, Nassib signed a three-year, $20.5 million deal with the Las Vegas Raiders. Then, on June 21, 2021, Carl Nassib went to Instagram and uploaded a video that would change everything.
“What’s up, everybody. This is Carl Nassib. I’m at my house in Westchester, Pennsylvania. I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” Nassib said in a video recording. “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.
“I’m a pretty private person, so I hope you guys know that I’m not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that one day, videos like this and the whole coming out process are not necessary, but until then I will do my best and my part to cultivate a culture that’s accepting and compassionate. And I’m gonna start with donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project. They’re an incredible organization. It’s the leading suicide prevention group for LGBT youth.”
According to the Trevor Project’s website, LGBTQ youth are four times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide. (45% of them have contemplated suicide in the past year.) The Trevor Project is a nonprofit that offers a hotline available 24/7, 365 days a year for young queer people struggling with coming out and/or thoughts of suicide.)
Nassib “agonized” over the post. In an interview with former NFL great and “GMA” host Michael Strahan, Nassib recalled “staring at his phone for like an hour” before deciding to post the video. “The last thing I said was just, ‘You know what? For the kids,’ and then I hit post.”
Having come out to family and friends before, Nassib came out publicly so that he could take control of his story. “I came out to my close friends and family like, years ago, and I wanted to do it publicly because I wanted to stay ahead of the narrative. I just wanted to own the story and make sure I did it on my terms,” he said.
Nassib was met with a surprising reaction: a wave of support from both commentators and other players around the league — including Giants running back Saquon Barkley and Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt. But what about his own team, the Raiders? “Now you have to go to a locker room full of men, in the most macho sport in the country,” Strahan said. “Did that scare you at all?”
“I really wasn’t scared about that at all,” Nassib replied. “I had a great relationship with my teammates, and I just was met with the most incredible support from my teammates.” He added that the NFL was supportive as well. “I’m just incredibly thankful for all the support they’ve given,” he said.
Fueled by that support, Nassib went on to have a breakout season with the Raiders. In his sixth season as a player, Nassib had 21 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in 13 games, per NBC Sports. On the season premiere of “Monday Night Football” last September, Nassib and fellow Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby combined to foil Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Nassib and Raiders cornerback Nate Hobbs blitzed Jackson before he could throw, helping Crosby get his second sack of the night.
Later, with the score tied in overtime, Nassib strip-sacked Jackson, causing him to lose the ball. That forced-fumble gave possession to the Raiders, who wound up winning in overtime, 33-27.
“I’ve played in a lot of games,” Nassib told reporters after the game. ”I try to make sure I really remember every single game. I won’t forget this one.”
And the city of Las Vegas hasn’t forgotten him. According to Outsports, “Las Vegas’ The Center, a community hub dedicated to serving the area’s LGBTQ population, announced they will be honoring Nassib with the Lanny D. Love Hero Award at their annual gala on October 14. The ceremony will take place at Resorts World Las Vegas.”