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'He's one of us': NFL players share support for Carl Nassib, want locker room to be welcoming to all

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Carl Nassib broke the barrier Monday, becoming the first active NFL player to publicly come out as gay.

Support for the 28-year-old Las Vegas Raiders defensive end poured in after his video announcement, even from President Joe Biden. Steelers offensive tackle Zach Banner said Nassib was the embodiment of “leadership.” Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon said he was “really proud” of him.

Nassib's announcement was momentous in helping to build acceptance and opening the door for other players to follow, current and former NFL players said. And when it comes to the locker room atmosphere, they believe Nassib's announcement won’t change anything at all.

“Yes, absolutely yes, there are horrible people out there who are too insecure with their lives and might be homophobic or transphobic,” Banner told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “Not in the NFL. We don’t have those experiences. To just automatically assume that there’s going to be some type of homophobia because of Carl’s coming out, I don't want to say it hurts my feelings, but it’s almost like an insult.

“Because that’s a brother. People don’t get that. If there is ever anything like, ‘Hey, I don’t feel comfortable with this,’ then get the hell out and go to another league.”

Carl Nassib of the Raiders publicly came out on Monday, and former teammates made it clear that he had their support.
Carl Nassib of the Raiders publicly came out on Monday, and former teammates made it clear that he had their support.

Banner and Nassib were teammates on the Cleveland Browns during the 2017 season, where they became friends. But Banner knows why the timing may not have been right for Nassib to go public with his sexual orientation while in Cleveland, citing the need for an open and compassionate locker room.

Banner compared it to the ways some teams have navigated racial inequalities, and recently when Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo spoke out against the spate of anti-Asian violence in the city.

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“I promise you the locker room we had in Cleveland and the environment we had there is not the same type of locker room that he has in Vegas,” Banner continued. “You need a certain level of comfort to be able to do something like that. You need a certain level of comfort to be able to look at your teammates and ask for support during the Black Lives Matter movement. You need a certain level of comfort to admit to your teammates as one of the only Asian-American players in the NFL, on the Atlanta Falcons, ‘Hey, I would appreciate your support through this.’

“That’s a reflection of the locker room, and I commend Vegas for having that type of environment. That is solidarity. When you show that and show that it exists, you can move on. That’s the only way we can move on for Carl. He’s inspiring others to do the same thing while also being comfortable enough in his own skin to lead. He’s trusting us with his identity, so we owe it to him to stand alongside him.”

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'He's one of us'

Vikings defensive tackle Michael Pierce suggested the best thing the Raiders' locker room could do in the wake of Nassib's announcement is stay exactly the same.

“You don’t need to blow anything out of proportion,” Pierce told USA TODAY Sports. “Practice is practice, camp is camp, dinner with the boys is still dinner with the boys. It’s business as usual. I feel like if they made this big deal out of it in the locker room, it would make it less appealing for anybody else who was gay, that they can’t come here and be themselves and do their job.

"This doesn’t change anything. He’s one of us.”

The locker room

Moon played 17 seasons in the NFL and tweeted Monday that he “played with several guys who never were comfortable enough to go public.”

Moon recalled former Vikings teammate Esera Tuaolo, a “good player and one of the best teammates because he had an infectious personality.” Tuaolo came out to a handful of teammates, but he only publicly shared that he was gay after he retired. Tuaolo is now a father and an LGBTQ+ advocate.

Moon, however, also remembered former players who struggled during their playing days, who felt a need to keep their sexuality from their teammates. NFL locker rooms include players from diverse backgrounds, many of whom may not be familiar with the LGBTQ+ community.

Moon said he would approach a player coming out with one strategy.

“I would want to listen,” Moon told USA TODAY Sports. “I would want to listen to see what the chatter is amongst the different player groups. Because football, even though we’re all one team, there are definitely groups of guys who are closer than others.

"And if you think there’s enough chatter that’s negative, then maybe we need to have a team meeting where the leaders voice their opinions and make it clear that the locker room is going to be welcoming to all. But hopefully, it doesn’t get to that, and acceptance comes organically.”

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Inclusiveness in the league

How can players and teams learn to become more inclusive? NFL senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion, Sam Rapoport, said it's not complicated.

“First, it’s OK to not fully understand the LGBTQ+ experience for you to be an ally,” Rapoport told USA TODAY Sports. “You don’t need to be an expert in all the terms. You just need to try.”

Rapoport shared an example. Often, when extending an invitation to a social event, a player might tell his teammates that “wives and girlfriends” are also invited. Rapoport suggested players who identify as straight step in and insist that “spouses” be used instead.

“What that does is it signals to players who are in the closet that it’s a little safer to come out,” Rapoport said. “The water is a little warmer than he anticipated because there’s someone who’s willing to stand up in the locker room and be like, ‘You know what, we can be better than this.’

"It’s correcting those things – and it doesn’t have to be aggressively. People are still learning in this space. It’s critical for the person who identifies as LGBTQ+ to control the time when they are ready to speak about these issues. It’s then incumbent on everyone else to send signals that it’s OK to do so.”

Wade Davis, a former player who came out publicly after he retired, works for You Can Play, which has led training on LGBTQ+ inclusivity that several NFL teams have opted into. The training focuses on inclusive language and other practices to foster a space of acceptance in locker rooms. The NFL has other sessions that include LGBTQ+ training for all 32 teams.

'The ultimate strength'

As society continues to move toward greater acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community, the general theme in the wake of Nassib's announcement is that it should be celebrated -- it may inspire other closeted NFL players to feel comfortable enough to publicly share their identity, too.

“The NFL, and football in general, is known for being the most macho of macho-men sports,” Moon said. “You’re coached and taught to think that you can’t show any type of weakness or vulnerability. You go out and play hurt. You just become a hardened guy.

“Carl is the one here who is showing the ultimate strength.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Carl Nassib gets support from NFL players: 'He's one of us'