Carl Nassib Announces He’s Gay But What If He Were Black?
In her essay, Saving The Life That Is Your Own from her book, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” Alice Walker provides for the reader a glimpse into what happens when we lack models or representatives along our life journey. Eventually, Walker would find the work and writings of Zora Neale Hurston as that indomitable source of inspiration. It just took Walker having to excavate the resources she had at her disposal to find Hurston. If you can, seek the essay out and read it for yourself.
Walker’s experience is what comes to mind for me in the wake of Carl Nassib’s “coming out” announcement via Instagram on Monday, June 21, 2021, and now being tagged as the first active NFL player to declare that he’s gay.
“Representation and visibility are so important,” said the 28-year-old Nassib, a defensive lineman for the Oakland Raiders, in the video clip.
Representation and visibility is important and the fact that it is happening now speaks to the moment we are in in contemporary culture. And not just because it is PRIDE month either!
If these past few years have taught us anything, it is that whenever something is seen as counter to the norm it is perceived as a threat. Nassib being same sex attracted and a member of America’s favorite pastime cannot get more counter. American football, at its core, is the posterchild of America’s affinity with manhood. It is the sport where America’s narrative of patriotism and masculinity is on full display. And yet, here is this young man, not quite 30, potentially altering that narrative.
When I think of how media has portrayed the “G” in LGBTQIA+, very rarely are we portrayed as manly or masculine. Usually, gay men or same sex attracted men are portrayed as soft, effeminate, the butt of the jokes, or the comic relief. And yet Nassib provides us another image and at the same time is receiving a lot of support and celebration since sharing his video. ESPN.com is reporting in just 24 hours since making his announcement, Fanatics, the NFL’s official e-commerce partner lists Nassib’s merchandise as a top seller.
But I cannot help but wonder when Michael Sam made his declaration some six or seven years ago, why wasn’t he celebrated and applauded as Nassib has?
There are some who believe that his declaration of being a gay man, just before the 2014 National Football League draft, may have been jumping the gun. But he was a decent athlete at the time with great promise and a successful college football career that rivaled many others selected that year. The most obvious difference between these two stories is that of their racial identity.
I don’t have to say it here, but I will – being Black in America has its challenges. We have to work harder and become wiser and smarter to reach a level playing field in just about every incarnation one can imagine. Just by Sam being a Black, gay man, the odds were against him in ways that it has not and will not be for Nassib.
Sam, who selected with the 249th overall pick by the St. Louis Rams, deserved a fair shot that he never received. Unfortunately, however, his race and his sexuality got in the way of his getting that fair shot. Because let’s just be honest, when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community, society at large sees gayness as white, which also means more easily acceptable and accessible.
Experience has taught me that it is far easier for the larger society to celebrate the Nassib’s in the world than it is for them to celebrate the Sam’s of the world. I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure I am not.
Think about it, since being drafted by the St. Louis Rams, he was eventually traded to the Dallas Cowboys, but never saw any playtime. Eventually, he retired from professional sports altogether in 2015 after playing less than a year in the Canadian Football League. According to several reports, he struggled with substance abuse before settling into a career as a motivational and public speaker. But, while some of us continue to follow him on social media, where he periodically posts an IG story or shares a tweet, not much has been said about him until Nassib’s announcement – which has, to some extent, thrust Sam back into the conversation of professional sports and sexuality.
I cannot help but to believe that if Michael Sam had been white and gay, the narrative of his story would have been much different.