With one Instagram post, Carl Nassib made more history than he ever will on the football field. The 28-year-old, a sixth-year defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders, used the social media platform Monday to announce he is gay – becoming the NFL’s first openly gay active player.

Carl Nassib, a defensive end with the Las Vegas Raiders, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay when he announced it on Instagram on Monday. Jeff Bottari/Associated Press

Unlike times in the past involving gay pro athletes, the reaction to Nassib’s announcement has been positive and supportive, showing things have changed for the better, even in professional sports, where outdated ideas on masculinity and sexuality still hold strong.

It means a lot to finally have an openly gay player in the country’s favorite sport. But more than that, Nassib’s words should speak to others across the country who are struggling, just as he did, with what their loved ones may think of their sexuality.

Nassib, who also pledged $100,000 to a suicide prevention group for LGBTQ youth, said Monday that he has “agonized” over the decision to come out for the last 15 years, even as he piled up accolades as a star athlete.

To come out now, even as an accomplished, if unspectacular, NFL player amid changing attitudes on LGBTQ Americans, took a lot of courage. Many of the athletes whose stories will precede Nassib’s in the history books weren’t treated so well.

The first openly gay pro athlete, Glenn Burke, was on his way to becoming a star for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the late 1970s, but he was isolated and discriminated against by his team and fellow players. He died in 1995 of complications from AIDS.

More than a dozen former NFL players have come out after retirement. In many cases, they became targets of slurs and offensive comments from current players.

Michael Sam, a Division 1 star in college, became the first openly gay player selected in the NFL draft in 2014, but he never played in a regular season game and questions remain about whether he was truly given a chance – a marginal player, his sexuality may have been considered too much of a “distraction.”

There’s no doubt that the ill treatment of those players kept others from coming out, or that it allowed fans who harbored their own homophobia to feel comfortable in their knee-jerk bigotry.

The same occurs when someone commits an act of bigotry in one of our communities. When a flag hung in support of Pride Month is vandalized, as happened in Skowhegan this week, or when a waiter is given homophobic pamphlets in lieu of a tip, as occurred at a midcoast restaurant recently, it sends the wrong message to anyone who is wondering whether their family, friends and community will accept them.

It’s up to the rest of us to send the right message. In Skowhegan, residents upset at the vandalism came together to say it wasn’t right, and other businesses downtown have put up flags in support and solidarity. A social media star from Bath used her influence to raise money for the waiter to replace the tips and for EqualityMaine to run a camp for LGBTQ youth.

They showed that bigotry will not be tolerated, and that all members of the community deserve respect and dignity.

By coming out, Nassib is saying that he can now fully be himself – even in the NFL. He is saying to anyone who needs to hear it that, maybe, they can be themselves too.

The totality of their message is clear and important, never more so than during Pride: There are people who will accept you for who you are, and stand beside you if and when hate rears its ugly head.


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