Pride Month is over but the ripples of that rainbow flag continue to wave.
Carl Nassib just became the first active NFL player to publicly announce he is gay.
We’re talking 101 years of NFL silence shattered by a seemingly casual 59-second Instagram video of a gay man coming out of the closet.
Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib looked into the camera and said, “I just want to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay.”
“I’m a pretty private person, so I hope you guys know I’m not doing this for attention,” he said. “I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that one day, videos like this and the whole coming-out process are not necessary, but until then I will do my best and my part to cultivate a culture that’s accepting and compassionate.”
Then he donated $100,000 to the Trevor Project, the No. 1 suicide-prevention service for LGBTQ youth in America.
The video sounded so simple, but this statement made it clear how powerful that short announcement was:
“Sadly, I have agonized over this moment for the last 15 years,” he said.
It took 15 years to launch that 59-second video.
Nassib is 28. He’s agonized over staying silent about being gay since he was 13. The stereotypical gay man doesn’t usually look like a 6-foot-7 inch, 270-pound lineman.
This is why Pride Month matters. Gay people come in all shapes and sizes and races and religions and have all sorts of talents and passions and life experiences.
Nassib cracked open the closet of the most macho sport in America. It’s tough being openly gay when too many people see it as a weakness or a flaw, or heaven forbid, some kind of sin.
How big a deal is it for a male athlete to be openly gay?
Back in 2013, NBA center Jason Collins told Sports Illustrated he was gay. He was only the second openly gay athlete to play in any major professional sports league in the United States and Canada.
He told Sports Illustrated, “I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time.”
Nassib has five NFL seasons behind him with three teams, including the Cleveland Browns. After Nassib came out, some people said, “Who cares? Just play football.”
Those people haven’t been disowned by their parents because they are gay. Or shoved into lockers and taunted and teased all through school. Or shunned by their own churches. Or sentenced to hell by strangers because of who they love.
President Joe Biden tweeted, “I’m so proud of your courage. Because of you, countless kids around the world are seeing themselves in a new light today.”
Tennis icon Billie Jean King tweeted her support: “The ability to live an authentic life is so important.”
An authentic life. Everyone should have that right.
An authentic life means embracing and celebrating all of you, like my friend Roger did.
I never knew Roger was gay until he posted photos of his husband on Facebook a few years ago. Like me, he hailed from Ravenna and graduated from Kent State University with a degree in journalism. He worked for my hometown paper, the Record Courier, first as a reporter, then as an editor.
His Facebook profile lists Roger Di Paolo as “Happily Retired. Dog Daddy. Purveyor of Wonder.”
And what a wonder he was. Roger was an artist. An author. A poet. A photographer. A journalist. A dad. A husband. A friend. A community activist. A local historian. A community treasure.
And he was a gay.
Roger’s son stood proudly next to the casket as Roger’s husband tenderly thanked each person for showing up to say goodbye.
It took my breath away to see the Pride flag draped over Roger’s casket. It’s like they tucked him in and celebrated his being gay one last time.
It made me grateful for every Carl Nassib who is living an authentic life out in the open, who know it still matters to swing open their closet door so others will no longer be trapped inside theirs.