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Why It Matters NFL Player Carl Nassib Announced He Is Gay

June 21, 2021

I rarely address sports related issues on this blog. But the news from Carl Nassib is such that it merits a posting tonight.

The Raiders defensive lineman came out in a statement posted to his Instagram account, becoming the first active player in the National Football League to publicly identify as gay.

I wish we were at a point in the larger society of this nation where such an announcement was akin to a yawn. In places like the city I live, it is not really ‘news’. Liberal and highly educated Madison has embraced living authentically for many years. We are proud, for example, of our openly gay Congressman Mark Pocan, and our openly gay United States Senator Tammy Baldwin.

But the degree to which bigotry and attempts to marginalize gay men and women still occur, and some politicians turn policy ideas into culture war issues for the cheap sake of campaign fodder, proves why the news from Nassib is important to be heard in many places across the nation.

I grew up in a rural conservative town in Waushara County. I just knew it not wise to come out until I was on safer ground. That would occur when I secured a job in Madison and found the friends and environment where coming out was truly one of the easiest events in my life. The part, however, that was difficult for me was knowing that scores of others in places around the state were not able to have that same sense of self, based on the conservative constraints placed upon them.

One of the best ways to reach those conservative areas is to wrap any message in football terms.

Many in the state who follow Green Bay Packers football, and that would constitute a sizable portion, and who perhaps are aware of the gay players who, over time, were part of the teams, know anti-gay behavior was not tolerated by Vince Lombardi.

Multiple players who played for Vince Lombardi, the legendary former Packers and Redskins coach, say that he knew some of his players were gay, and that not only did he not have a problem with it, but he went out of his way to make sure no one else on his team would make it a problem.

Such lessons are important and have value to impart to those who need assurance that being gay is totally fine, and that acting in bigoted ways against gay people is not.

The news from Nassib, therefore, is not an announcement that gay men play the rough and tumble game of football. No, we are well aware that gay people make up all professions. Rather, Nassib stated clearly who he is as a person, not wishing to hide or deflect or lie anymore. He chose to live authentically.

I am proud of him.

I also know how he feels tonight. A little freer. A little less tight in the chest. Deeper breaths never felt better.

I trust that the news does have an impact on others in the state and that it helps carry the ball of progress with gay rights ‘down the field’.

I know we will reach a time in the nation when someone will say they are gay and we will collectively say, ‘that is great’. And yawn.

And so it goes.

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