GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Earlier this week, Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib made history becoming the first openly gay active player in the National Football League. He came out in a video he posted on social media.
“What’s up people. It’s Carl Nassib. I’m here at my house in Westchester, Pennsylvania. Just want to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” Nassib said in the video. “I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now but I finally feel comfortable enough to get this off my chest. I really have the best life. I’ve got the best family, friends and job a guy could ask for. I’m a pretty private person. So, I hope you know I'm not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important.”
Taylor Vanderlaan, a community advocate with the Grand Rapids Pride Center, watched the video and agreed. Representation does matter.
“It takes an enormous amount of bravery and courage. He didn’t know what the outcome was going to be when he came out. But, he still took that chance and it will pay off,” Vanderlaan said during an interview with FOX 17 on Wednesday. “I think the NFL is absolutely in a place where we need and can have a gay football player. So, it’ll show the super masculine fans that there are people different than you playing football.”
@Raiders DE Carl Nassib made history coming out as the first openly gay active player in the NFL.— Lauren Edwards (@LaurenEdwardsTV) June 25, 2021
Taylor Vanderlaan, who's gay and played rugby at Ferris State (and an advocate w/ @GRPrideCenter),
But he says there's more work to do. // @FOX17 #Pride2021 pic.twitter.com/d7JdkoGQQA
Vanderlaan, 26, connected with Nassib’s story because he too is gay and was once an athlete, playing rugby at Ferris State University. He said at the time, there’d been rumors on the team circulating about him. So, the third week into his sophomore year, he came out to them.
“I came out to a close friend on the team and then more,” Vanderlaan recalled. “Then slowly everyone on the team knew. There was some confusion and some questions but they were all on board. I couldn’t have asked for a better support system.”
Vanderlaan added that as soon as he came out his performance on the field improved. He said he felt comfortable being who he was. However, he knows that comfort isn’t a part of everyone's journey.
“I think it becomes a lot easier to be gay in sports when you are out and when you do look like me. Someone like Michael Sam didn’t have the easiest time,” said Vanderlaan, who’s white and Sam is Black. “The fact that I think that Carl is white and attractive and fits the mold, he’s a safe bet to mainstream inclusion in the NFL.”
Michael Sam was the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and an NFL draft pick in 2014 who came out that same year, a year before the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. Sam ended up never playing a regular season game in the NFL. However, Vanderlaan believes Sam faced racism and was never fully accepted.
Nassib being white gave him the privilege and ease to come out, Vanderlaan noted. Nevertheless, he hopes Nassib will be accepted.
“I actually hope that one-day videos like this, the coming out process are just not necessary,” Nassib went on to say in his short video. “But, until then I’m going to do my best and do my part to cultivate a culture that's accepting, that's compassionate.”
Nassib also said that he’ll donate $100,000 to the Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to suicide prevention for teens in the LGBTQ+ community.
Vanderlaan applauds Nassib’s work and hopes teams everywhere — high school, college and professional — will cultivate the culture that Nassib is trying to do.
“Other people’s experience is very different but it doesn’t make them worse,” Vanderlaan said. “Having an out athlete on your team makes your team better.”