It probably doesn’t hurt that Nassib is stepping so publicly out of the closet during LGBTQ+ Pride Month in a year when it seems everyone, from straight moms to corporate cheese brands, is waving the rainbow flag. The NFL, though, has historically remained largely a stubborn fixture in perpetuating yesteryear’s stereotypes of hypermasculinity. Until now, perhaps. At least one can hope that’s the case.
Still, professional sports in many ways feels (along with the Catholic Church) like one of the last frontiers of America’s closet. In an era where A-list pop stars like Demi Lovato are embracing fluid identities like pansexual and nonbinary, even the language some have turned to to describe Nassib’s identity feels claustrophobic and reminiscent of a bygone era. Terms like “out gay” or “actively gay” that are being used in news stories around Nassib’s message feel much more 1991 than 2021.
In the past, we have seen players come out in other leagues and watched their careers take a major hit as a result. Or we have seen former players come out once they have left their playing days behind. Nassib’s bravery and the reception it’s received leave me hopeful that this is the start of a new era — in youth, college and professional sport — where you can be gay and be a football player and those truths don’t automatically negate or detract from one another.
As great as that would be, it’s not enough. I’m hoping Nassib’s openness about his identity will have power beyond sports to accelerate the process of flipping the script on what constitutes masculinity in American culture. Let’s see some more gender diverse pro sports figures — and fans. Maybe more straight men will start to understand more intrinsically that gay men are as male as heterosexual men. Maybe the gay kid in the room filled with straight men shouting at the TV screen will feel a little less anxious.
I’m not putting all of that on Nassib’s shoulders, but it’s a future I’ve long hoped and worked for — and I think he’s gotten us one crucial step closer with his actions this week.
The response to Nassib, regardless of what it can or cannot do to change things for LGBTQ Americans, at heart reflects a previously unseen level of positivity and support around a male pro athlete embracing queer identity. The pioneering work of queer athletes (and fans) in the WNBA and the US Women’s National Soccer Team is so far ahead of where most men’s sports are that they are essentially a world apart.
We have an opportunity before us that Nassib helped to ripen: to change the discourse in a permanent way.
Some male-centric sports circles contain deeply toxic misogynistic and homophobic and transphobic commentary. A lot of people in these circles will now be talking about Nassib because he’s trending, and it’s the perfect chance for the rest of us to interject and nip the epithets and misinformation in the bud by engaging, not turning away.
It’s a chance for us to push back on those outmoded tropes and instead lean into new ones that say you can be tough and get touchdowns and just happen to date men rather than women. And that’s perfectly fine. Maybe even something to celebrate.