Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib announced Monday via Instagram that he is gay, thus becoming the first NFL player to come out while active in the league. Looking past the resultant media frenzy and love slathering Nassib, both facts unreported and questions unasked by said media readily come to mind.
The notion of homosexuality and football being somehow intertwined is nothing new. In 1978, college professor Alan Dundes published Into the Endzone for a Touchdown: A Psychoanalytic Consideration of American Football, in which he argued, possibly with tongue firmly in cheek, that the sport’s inner vernacular branded it as an obvious albeit unspoken male ritual rife with gay overtones. Dundes quoted fellow professor William Arens in how, by his observation, even the football uniform is “not an expression, but an exaggeration of maleness.”
Moving back into the present, statistics do not lie when it comes to measuring a player’s effectiveness or lack thereof. In this area, Nassib is shown to be a journeyman; one who holds a spot on the roster solely until someone better comes along. Nassib also demonstrates that a player’s college career is not always a leading indicator of how they might perform in the NFL. In 2015, at the conclusion of his senior year at Penn State, Nassib won the Lombardi Award, presented annually to the best lineman in college football. He was selected over Myles Garrett and Joey Bosa. Garrett has been selected for two Pro Bowl appearances; Bosa, three. Nassib? None. (At least the Lombardi Award voters got it right in 2013 when they selected Aaron Donald over Michael Sam. But I digress.)
Nassib is entering his seventh year in the NFL. He was drafted in the third round by the Cleveland Browns in 2015, playing two years there before being cut in September of 2017. He then signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played there for two seasons, subsequently signing with the Raiders as a free agent prior to the 2020 season. Nassib played in fourteen games for the Raiders last year, starting in three. Ostensibly brought in to bolster the Raiders pass rush, he recorded only 2.5 sacks for the year. The Raiders as a team were abysmal on defense in 2020: twenty-fifth in total yards allowed, twenty-sixth in passing yards allowed, twenty-fourth in rushing yards allowed, and in the most important stat of all, thirtieth in points allowed. Oh yes — twenty-ninth in quarterback sacks. Long story short, Nassib last year did nothing to warrant job security on a team where even an average player would have stood out. He has also done nothing to alleviate suspicions that his coming out now has as much, if not more, to do with maintaining a roster spot via societal pressure than any other motivation. Unless jersey sales count.
A side note: Tim Tebow, currently attempting an NFL comeback at age 32 with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a tight end, was snubbed by San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle and company as far as being invited to “Tight End U,” a three-day workshop for the position being held this week in Nashville. The reason given was insufficient room, with a passive/aggressive side swipe by Kittle at Tebow:
“If I can’t invite every tight end, how do I not invite a second- or third-string guy on a team that’s been playing tight end since he was 18 years old in high school?” Kittle said. “Nothing against Tim Tebow. I hope that he has incredible success this year. I hope he has 10 touchdowns. I hope he has a great year, but it’s hard for me to invite someone to this that just started playing the position when I can’t invite a guy that’s been playing it for eight to 10 years. That’s just hard for me.”