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NFL players like me are cheered when we go out … and are soon out of work | NFL

By on July 21, 2022 0

If Carl Nassib isn’t signed to a team by September 8, the NFL, a league with 32 teams and more than 1,600 players, will once again not have a single LGBTQ+ player in its ranks.

I am writing this article well before that date because it is a parody and there is still time for the situation to change. When I became the first active NFL player to identify as bisexual in August 2019 and found myself without a team, I wished someone had stood up for me.

After all, establishing yourself in the NFL is hard enough if you’re right. As a former player, I know the sacrifices you have to make to be a professional player but also the commitments you make to stay on top of your game. Time, family, friends, love and other life calls all take a back seat in your sport. When you are LGBTQ+, the struggle is even harder. The rigorous journey of coming out requires immense effort in addition to the challenges of being an elite athlete. Image, societal norms and constructs, safety, family, friends, work and opportunity are often sacrificed to find the power and courage to come out.

That’s why athletes, like everyone else, should go out when they’re ready. We know the joy and love that will come when someone shares the truth about who they are, but we need to stop imposing our deadlines and expectations on athletes when they are already sacrificing so much. And instead of just focusing on how relevant their ad is, we should be focusing on how staff, fans, teammates and people treat them when they do. Otherwise, we’re creating a model of celebrating an athlete’s bravery while cutting their career at the kneecaps.

Recent examples offer cautionary tales.

After Michael Sam told the world he was gay, he was drafted in the seventh round in 2014, the lowest pick of any SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He bounced around practice squads and in Canada, never making an NFL regular season roster.

I was drafted in the fifth round in 2015 by the Dallas Cowboys, started several games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and had some tremendous highlights during my time on the court. And after coming out in 2019, I never had another try, call or interest from an NFL team. Despite several contacts, I have not spoken to my sports agent to date.

In 2021, Carl became the first NFL player on an active roster to come out as gay. He went on to make several high-profile plays, including a winning game on Monday Night Football for the Raiders against the Ravens … and was released in March. At the height of his career at 29, he was without a team.

I’m not necessarily saying that coming out and career blockage are inexorably linked – just that these three examples seem to form a disturbing pattern. What is happening? The trend is striking given that each year the league’s acceptance of LGBTQ+ athletes has grown, and we are seeing LGBTQ+ advocacy from the NFL on a scale never seen before. Fans and players also seem to be evolving. Nassib received support from teammates and other players upon his exit, while a recent poll in association with LGBT Hero found that 23% of American fans would After likely to cheer on their favorite player if they went out.

Aren’t we getting the support we need after the whirlwind that comes with finally living our truth? Do teams view a player’s value differently after coming out? Is there a disconnect between the NFL as an organization and individual teams and their owners? What must change?

The story of Carl’s former Raiders coach Jon Gruden may offer a partial answer. While Gruden voiced his support for Carl upon his release, leaked emails revealed that in addition to making racist and misogynistic comments, he once lamented that the NFL encouraged teams to write ” queer”. How many other people in positions of power in the NFL support inclusion but have other opinions in private? And how does this affect a player’s job prospects? And a closer look at the LGBT Hero survey reveals that 22% of sports fans said they wouldn’t support teams with LGBT athletes.

What happened to Michael Sam and to me has already happened. While Carl’s future in the NFL is still up in the air, any other player of his caliber at this point in his career wouldn’t be uncertain they would be signed, which is already an integral part of an organization’s success.

We must be proactive and intentional in the organizations we build and support. We need to make sure actions support social media works, pledges and posts.

This does not discredit the fantastic work that has been done for LGBTQ+ athletes and all athletes. I was given a platform within the NFL to share my experiences and lead speeches, panels, discussions and initiatives. I saw LGBTQ+ athletes and the teams they play to donate to The Trevor Project, the leading nonprofit for LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention, partnering with GLAAD and honoring LGBTQ legends + such as former Patriots star Ryan O’Callahan.

In all of this and more, we see growth. But at the end of the day, the gamers who come out are still gamers and what they wanted, needed and hoped for is an opportunity to play the game they love while living their lives openly and honestly. If this opportunity is given to Carl Nassib, the NFL and the LGBTQ+ community can finally break a cycle that has plagued men’s sports – the league can finally be the example it claimed it would like to be.