When he announced he was gay via Instagram, former Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib made history as the first openly gay player on an active NFL roster.
It’s hard to believe that he’s the first — we may often wish our society has progressed to a point where something like a coming out doesn’t have to make national news. Nassib’s announcement is a stark reminder that it has not.
The toxic masculinity promoted by male dominated sports has hidden in plain sight because the sports are simply too popular for anyone to incite a drastic and meaningful change to the way players and teams have forever interacted.
While many may never sit inside of an NFL locker room, the need for Nassib to come out publicly and the widespread coverage it subsequently received proves the culture that is still assumed in professional sports.
When Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be selected in the NFL Draft, came out, his initial projections of a fourth-round pick plummeted to his eventual selection in the seventh round. Then, the Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year never even made it to an active roster.
Nassib’s situation is assuredly different, as he is going into his sixth year on an NFL roster. However, initial reactions to his coming out give hope that representation of the LGBTQ community is on its way to a much more positive light in male dominated sports. Players and coaches across the country took to social media to show their support.
Nassib was upfront in saying he’s a “private guy” and that he hopes videos like his are soon no longer necessary. And while there may not be a specific set of steps to end the current need for coming out videos, he has set the precedent needed to begin that trend.
People aren’t looked to for coming out videos saying “I’m straight,” so why should there be any difference for members of the LGBTQ community?
Society must progress past heteronormativity. Until then, however, coverage of LGBTQ celebrities like Nassib who have a big platform is important. Young members of the LGBTQ community need role models to look up to. In Nassib’s case, the coverage of his coming out can make young, gay athletes feel accepted in their respective sports, especially those as male-dominated as football.
However, coverage and representation of the LGBTQ community — specifically in situations like Nassib’s — must be conscious of the message it conveys.
The media can perpetuate the storyline that athletes coming out has to be national news or it can favor a trend toward putting these athletes in an uplifting light. As journalists, it is our job to prioritize giving the LGBTQ community a platform to spread their stories rather than exploit their sexuality for our own gain.
Ideally, LGBTQ athletes will one day be able to share their experiences only to spread awareness and be role models to others in the community instead of being sensationalized by the media.
Nassib becoming the first openly gay player on an active roster will undoubtedly garner attention of all kinds, but the courage he showed in coming out will hopefully blaze a path toward proper representation of the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ athletes.