Influencing By Default: Carl Nassib Becomes NFL’s First Openly Gay Player
Carl Nassib, a defensive lineman for the Las Vegas Raiders, became the first active NFL player to publicly declare that he is gay. The news caught fire when his Instagram video went live on June 21, and it was positively received by the organization, fans, and other supporters who watched the video or heard of it from news sources.
Considering how many ways there are for someone to announce personal achievements, struggles, and realizations, Nassib choosing Instagram as the platform to announce his coming out to the world is important for the platform, and social media as a whole, in how it can foster change.
Going Viral For Change
Although Nassib probably does not consider himself an “influencer” in the social media sense of the word, the decision to use a social platform for what is now considered an important topic is seen as courageous and inspiring.
“I just think that representation and visibility are so important,” Nassib explained in his Instagram video. “I actually hope that one day, videos like this and the whole coming-out process are just not necessary, but until then, I’m going to do my best and my part to cultivate a culture that’s accepting, that’s compassionate.”
There is something impactful when a person in the public eye decides to make personal announcements to the general population. It is even more impactful when organizations back their employees. On Twitter, the NFL released their own comments on Nassib’s announcement.
“Raiders DE Carl Nassib announced today that he’s gay. He also shared he’s donating $100,000 to the TrevorProject, a suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth,” they said in the tweet. “The NFL family is proud of you, Carl.”
Nassib’s donation to The Trevor Project brought considerable interest to the organization. Considered the leading national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth under 25, The Trevor Project has seen a rise in donations after Nassib’s announcement.
The N.F.L. matched Nassib’s donation and announced it on June 22, then other organizations followed. Kevin Wong, The Trevor Project’s VP of communications, said website views are up, and donations have increased by 50%.
“We estimate that there are 1.8 million LGBTQ young people who seriously consider suicide every year, just in the U.S.,” Wong said. “Donations like this help us scale to meet that need.”
Social Support Leads To Emotional Support
Beyond financial donations to LGBTQ+ organizations, there also came emotional support. For each NFL player who further posted support for Nassib on various social media platforms, another group of followers was exposed to the message, some of whom may not feel welcome in sports because of how they identify.
Reuters reports that combined, North America’s five biggest men’s professional leagues: the NFL, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, and Major League Soccer have 150 franchises spread across the United States and Canada. Of those, Nassib is currently the only openly gay player.
“There is a real culture change that needs to happen,” Cathy Renna, a spokeswoman for the National LGBTQ Task Force, said in that Reuters article. “When we talk about toxic masculinity, locker rooms are one of the last bastions, particularly for sports like football and hockey.”
One person can make a difference, but it takes support to carry that message to foster real change. Although the sports industry, especially in men’s sports, has a ways to go before homophobia is eliminated, we are seeing how the influence of one player can make a big difference in how the rest of the industry (and those who support it) adapts and embraces individuals for who they are.