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Greg Cote: Why NFL's Carl Nassib is sports' most significant 'first' since Jackie Robinson in 1947

Greg Cote: Why NFL's Carl Nassib is sports' most significant 'first' since Jackie Robinson in 1947

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Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib came out as gay this week, saying representation and visibility are important.

Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib came out as gay this week, saying representation and visibility are important. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

MIAMI — Carl Nassib is the new Jackie Robinson.

We shall see over time if that statement proves to be hyperbole, but in the moment this week, it felt that big — that much a landmark. And it felt that necessary. That overdue.

It was a matter of time, but the when and the who are always a mystery until they are not. Until somebody is first,

In 1947 it was Robinson breaking baseball's color line.

In 2021 it was Carl Nassib, a heretofore little-known professional football player, standing up in America's biggest sport as the first openenly gay player.

Outside of Las Vegas Raiders fans few had probably even heard of the defensive end before this week.

Now the No. 94 jersey with Nassib's name across the back is the hottest seller in the entire league, nationwide, bigger than all of the superstar quarterbacks who typically top the list.

I remember getting into a big argument once with a friend who tried to make the case that Jackie Robinson was historically overrated, given too much credit as a trailblazer. The oddball logic: That if he wasn't first, somebody else would have been.

No! Someone has to be first. Someone has to be brave, and see themselves as bigger and more important than just a guy who players sports for living.

In this case, someone had to step forward and volunteer himself as an example of hope and inclusion and possibility for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community looking for their own truth. Especially young people who can feel so lost, so isolated.

An NFL player just stood up for all to see and said I got your back. I'm one of you. You are not alone.

A huge turning point for the football league.

Nassib is a pretty good player. He's in his prime at 28. Has 20 1/2 career sacks.

But he will never be known moving forward for football more than for proving to all that a gay man can play it.

His announcement on Instagram took exactly one minute. It took for 15 years for him to find the strength and inner peace to say it out loud.

That he stepped forward during Pride Month was no coincidence.

"What's up people, I'm Carl Nassib at my home in West Chester, Pennsylvania," he began. "Wanna take a quick moment to say that I'm gay. I've been meaning to do this for awhile but now finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest. I'm a pretty private person so I hope you guys know I'm not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important."

Nassib also announced a $100,000 donation to the Trevor Project, a top suiccie-prevention group serving LGBTQ+ youth. Quickly the NFL matched that donation.

Look for individual teams to follow suit. Nassib, alone, has opened a door for the NFL to embrace the cause that matters to its groundbreaking player.

The notion that Nassib is the NFL's only gay player is absurd, all but an impossibility. Warren Moon said Tuesday he had gay teammates not ready to come out. The question moving forward is whether closeted players will be more free now to say "Me too" and also come out., and not just in football, but in the MLB, NBA, NHL and other sports.

Who will take Nassib's cue and come forward next? Someone on your favorite team perhaps?

The reaction to Nassib coming out shows how far we have come in seven years, since openly gay linebacker Michael Sam was a seventh-round NFL draft pick in 2014. Sam was not as as accepted, let alone as heralded. He never played a regular-season game in the league.

Sam on Twitter Tuesday thanked Nassib "for owning your truth."

There may come a time when one's sexuality in sports is of little matter, with no stigma attached, and no need for a headline-making announcement.

The reaction to Nassib's revelation has been overwhelmingly encouraging. Sure, Joy Behar on TV's "The View" made a cringe-worthy joke about it. But acceptance and support have been prevailing.

Carl Nassib raised his hand. Spoke his truth. He will forever be first.

Now: Who's next?

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