Often the phrase 'historic moment' is woefully overused. But then there are times when a moment truly does feel... historic. On Monday Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to publicly declare that he is gay.
“I just want to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” Nassib said in a video posted to his Instagram account. “I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that like 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.”
A small handful of NFL players had previously revealed they were gay, but only after their playing careers were over. David Kopay became the first NFL player to publicly come out as gay in 1975, three years after he retired. Roy Simmons was the second former player to announce that he was gay, doing so in 1992 after his career with the Giants and Washington Football Team had ended. He later disclosed he was HIV-positive and died from pneumonia-related complications in 2014 at age 57, according to The New York Times.
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As Nassib's announcement continues to reverberate across the sports landscape, here are just a few of the landmark LGBTQ athletes who blazed a trail before him in professional team sports.
Michael Sam - NFL
In 2014 Michael Sam, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Defensive Player of the Year as a senior at Missouri, publicly came out as gay shortly before the 2014 NFL draft. Sam became the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL, but the St. Louis Rams cut him during the final preseason roster cutdowns. In 2015 Sam signed with the Montreal Alouettes becoming the first publicly gay player to play in the CFL.
On social media Sam expressed his gratitude to Nassib.
Jason Collins - NBA
In 2013 NBA center Jason Collins announced he was gay in a Sports Illustrated cover story. At the time of his announcement, Collins was a free agent. He would not sign with a team until February 2014, when he signed with the Nets and became the second openly gay athlete to play in any of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada.
In his SI piece, Collins wrote "No one wants to live in fear. 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. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back."
John Amaechi - NBA
In February 2007, John Amaechi became the first former NBA player to publicly come out as gay after doing so in his memoir "Man in the Middle."
"Homosexuality is an obsession among ballplayers, trailing only wealth and women. The guys I played with just didn't like 'f---'—or so they insisted over and over again," Amaechi wrote in an excerpt from his book, using an offensive term for gay men. "But they didn't understand f--- enough to truly loathe them. Most were convinced, even as they sat next to me on the plane or threw me the ball in the post, that they had never met one. Over time, I realized their antigay prejudice was more a convention of a particular brand of masculinity. Homophobia is a ballplayer posture, akin to donning a 'game face,' wearing flashy jewelry or driving the perfect black Escalade."
One widely publicized response to Amaechi's announcement came from former NBA player Tim Hardaway, who stated that he would demand that a gay player be removed from his team: "First of all, I wouldn't want him on my team. Second of all, if he was on my team I would really distance myself from him because I don't think that's right and I don't think he should be in the locker room when we're in the locker room." Hardaway later apologized for his remarks. In 2019 Hardaway said he believes those comments are what is keeping him out of the NBA Hall of Fame.
Roger Robbie - MLS
In February 2013, Robbie Rogers came out as gay, becoming the second male soccer player in Britain to do so after Justin Fashanu in 1990. After a brief retirement, Rogers became the first openly gay man to compete in a top North American professional sports league when he played his first match for the LA Galaxy in May 2013.
Glenn Burke - Major League Baseball
An outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland A's between 1976 and 1979, Glenn Burke became the first Major League Baseball player to come out as gay to teammates and owners while still active. In October 1977, Burke ran onto the field to congratulate his Dodgers teammate Dusty Baker after Baker hit his 30th home run; Burke raised his hand over his head and Baker slapped it. They are widely credited with inventing the high five.
Burke kept active in sports after retiring from baseball. He competed in the 1982 Gay Olympics, now re-named Gay Games, in track, and in 1986 in basketball. He played for many years in the San Francisco Gay Softball League. He died from AIDS-related causes in 1995.