EDITORIAL: By coming out, former Penn State standout Carl Nassib proves his courage

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD
Carl Nassib
  • Carl Nassib has become the first active NFL player to come out as openly gay.
  • The former Penn State standout is a defensive lineman with the Las Vegas Raiders.
  • Nassib had 2.5 sacks and started five games last season with the Raiders.

The Merriam-Webster definition of courage reads as follows: “Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.”

If we’ve learned anything about West Chester’s Carl Nassib this week, it’s that he’s courageous.

As you’ve almost certainly heard by now, the former Penn State standout has become the first active NFL player to come out as gay. He made the announcement on Monday during Pride Month.

Former Penn State standout Carl Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

That couldn’t have been an easy decision for Nassib, who is far from an NFL star. In fact, he’s a journeyman.

Entering his sixth NFL season, the defensive lineman has already played for three teams. Last season, with the Las Vegas Raiders, he played in 14 games with five starts, registering 2.5 sacks. In the callous world of pro football, he’s eminently dispensable.

His decision to come out could very well put his job and NFL future on the line.

Checkered history: That’s because of the NFL’s recent track history on the gay issue is checkered, at best.

In 2014, Michael Sam came out before the draft in 2014. He was coming off a season when he was the Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference, which is generally considered the best college football league in America.

Nevertheless, Sam immediately started sliding down draft boards. Executives, hiding behind anonymity, said they didn't want to take a chance on him. One of the NFL’s most respected men, Tony Dungy said he wouldn't draft Sam because he would become a "distraction."

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Sam eventually became one of the final picks of the draft by the St. Louis Rams, but he got cut before the season and never played a down in an NFL regular-season game.

Another player, cornerback Eli Apple, was asked at the 2016 NFL Combine if he “liked men.” The clear implication was that if Apple answered “yes,” his draft stock would almost certainly drop.

A lot to lose: So, it’s very obvious that Nassib has a lot to lose by coming out. Last year, Nassib signed a three-year, $25 million deal with the Raiders, with $16.75 million guaranteed.

So, financially, he’s doing well, but when his current contract runs out, will another team be willing to take on the “distraction” of signing a solid, but certainly not great player, who is also openly gay?

That will be determined.

Words of support, but will actions follow? At the moment, the football folks are all saying the right things.

Statements of support have come from Raiders coach Jon Gruden, the Raiders organization, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, some fellow NFL players and PSU head coach James Franklin.

Frankly, that's to be expected. Words come easy. Actions, however, will be much more telling. How will the fans react? How will his teammates treat him in the locker room? How will opponents talk to him on the field?

Already, many social-media posts have been less than kind.

Saying and doing the right thing: Nassib, for his part, is saying and doing all the right things.

He’s even donated $100,000 to the Trevor Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to prevent suicides among LGBTQ youth.

Of course, overcoming adversity is nothing new for Nassib, who walked on at PSU before becoming the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and leading the nation in sacks with 15.5 as a senior in 2015.

Still, coming out as gay will likely present Nassib with his biggest challenge yet.

All indications are, however, that he possesses the courage to pass his latest, and greatest, test.