I haven’t bothered to look, because no one needs to, but I know there’s already the cliche and tired backlash to Carl Nassib’s coming out as gay while an active NFL player (or as ESPN put it, “actively gay”). Sure, there’s just the hateful, bigoted insults openly hurled. And then there’s the “why is this even a story?” from people who think feigning not caring (they so care) is some sort of tolerance or acceptance. We all know that it’s just an attempt to dismiss it so as not to confront their own views or to try and keep it quiet as it’s been so they can do the same.
The Raiders’ official Twitter feed retweeted Nassib’s announcement and written statement, as did the NFL’s, and we’ll see where that goes. What were they going to do, honestly?
What I’m curious about is when John Gruden and Mike Mayock have to get in front of a microphone. Gruden was contacted by ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez, and was supportive in a very Gruden way.
But whenever it’s live and in front of a camera, we know what will come from them. And I don’t think it’ll even be from a malicious place, just the standard speak. They’ll think it’s the right thing to say. “He’s a good football player and he’ll help us win.” And those things will be true, and the Raiders obviously believe that. They wouldn’t have handed Nassib $16 million guaranteed if they didn’t think so. And in a vacuum, that’s what it should be about. We want to aim for the day when it’s only about whether a player helps a team win or doesn’t.
But we’re not there yet, and merely reducing Nassib to just another cog in the Raiders and football machine is a cousin of the “Why are we even talking about this?” crowd. Again, if this is the route Mayock and Gruden take, I won’t think it’s because they think that way unless they give me reason to. They’ll want to focus on football of course, but it’ll come from a place of support in their minds. At least I hope.
But it’s more than just whether he’s a good football player or not. It doesn’t really respect what he’s taking on here. If it wasn’t a lot, he wouldn’t be the first in the NFL to come out while on a roster, would he?
Gruden and Mayock would be better served to say something along the lines of how much they respect what Nassib is doing, and how they are looking forward/honored to be the first team to provide a home for such a player. That they not only respect that it’s about more than the plays he makes on the field, but the difference he will and could make in society. And that they and his teammates will support him through whatever he will face, which we know will be ugly at times. And if anyone on the Raiders — players or staff — isn’t on board with that, there’s the door.
We know that football coaches don’t like “stories,” and they want to keep everything about “getting better.” But this is beyond that, whether they like it or not. So instead of scrambling for the safety of “no distractions,” turn into it. Embrace it. Be excited about being about more than football. Show everyone the difference it won’t make, which will only make it easier for the next athlete, and the one after that. And then maybe we can get to that place where this isn’t a story that the bigots out there would like to pretend we already are for effect.
While Nassib’s announcement was about as laid back as you could make something like this, his connecting it with, and donation to, The Trevor Project makes it clear that he knows, accepts, and embraces that this is about more. It’s about bringing to light the challenges LGBTQ+ youth face, especially now with anti-trans bills spreading like a fungus through dimwitted and hateful state houses. It’s about shedding light on just how shameful it is that this fight even exists at all. But it does, and has to be fought. The Raiders are part of it now.
Nassib isn’t just a player, and this isn’t just about football. And that’s OK. Good, even. Football coaches and front offices treating players merely like automatons on an assembly line has led to myriad problems, with only one of them being players not feeling like they could live as themselves. This is a chance, for once, to move beyond that and do more good than just a playoff berth.