‘There are kids … who’d rather be dead than gay,’ says former NFL star Carl Nassib who was first active player to publicly identify sexuality

Carl Nassib knows the power of opening up.

In 2021, Nassib – then playing for the Las Vegas Raiders – became the first active NFL player in league history to publicly identify as gay.

Nassib said he agonized over the decision for 15 years, adding that he was a private person and wasn’t seeking any publicity.

Months later, he became the first active NFL player identifying as gay to feature in a regular season game, starring in the Raiders’ thrilling 33-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

When he announced, Nassib pointed towards The Trevor Project – a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ youth – and how it had helped him.

On Friday, Nassib will continue that partnership, as he announces the second round pick of the Cleveland Browns – the team with whom Nassib began his NFL career in 2016 – at the 2024 NFL Draft. 

As the team’s guest picker, Nassib will be joined on stage in Detroit by The Trevor Project’s founder and interim CEO, Peggy Rajski.

“I think that my career, my platform has provided an avenue to get our messaging for the need for more support for LGBTQ youth to people that might not hear it every day,” Nassib told CNN.

“I think that athletes, that people who watch sports might not be hearing the messaging that they really need to hear about what Trevor Project is doing so we’ve built a really, really strong partnership over the last few years,” added Nassib.

“I’ve continued my support for the Trevor Project because there are kids here in the States, probably around the world, who would rather be dead than be gay and that really crushes me.”

The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ+ young people – ages 13-24 – seriously consider suicide each year in the US and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds. In 2022, the organization launched 24/7 crisis services for LGBTQ+ youth in Mexico.

When Nassib was thinking about openly talking about his sexuality, he consulted with The Trevor Project before doing so, saying that he wanted to make sure he “controlled the narrative” and direct attention to its work.

He has made numerous financial donations to the non-profit organization and says he hopes to use his position as a former professional athlete to “help the next generation.” Nassib to date is the only NFL player to publicly identify as gay while active in the league.

“I thought it would be a really big moment and so I wanted to be able to redirect some of that attention to the cause that needs as much attention as we can possibly give it so,” said Nassib. “I feel very lucky just to be in the same sentence with them.”

Nassib (center) takes part in the 'A Night of Pride' event run by GLAAD -- a non-profit LGBTQ advocacy organization -- and the NFL. - Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images
Nassib (center) takes part in the 'A Night of Pride' event run by GLAAD -- a non-profit LGBTQ advocacy organization -- and the NFL. - Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images

After playing seven years in the NFL, Nassib retired from the sport in 2023 – a moment he called “bittersweet” – having played for the Browns, Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

He was part of playoff teams, though he also played for some of Cleveland’s historically underperforming rosters.

He was on the Browns team which won one game across two seasons in 2016 and 2017, going 0-16 in 2017.

Nassib can smile about that experience now, but calls that time “really tough” as someone who was feeling like a “winner in life.” 

Looking back on his professional career, Nassib reflected that football “is a very punishing industry.”

“Despite your sexuality, it doesn’t really matter, it matters like your work ethic and your perseverance and your grit,” he added.

“Those three things will get you further than anything else. If I had to do it all over again, I really wouldn’t change much.”

“I gave it my absolute all. I worked as hard as I possibly could.’ And if you can get to that point, you’re gonna be so happy with your career. The last thing that you want is any regrets.”

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