Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib made history Monday night, becoming the first openly gay athlete to play in an NFL game. Aside from Charles Barkley showing up on national television wearing a Nassib jersey, the spectacle went largely unnoticed during ESPN’s broadcast of the game.
Even when Nassib gave the story a Hollywood finish, stripping the ball from Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson in overtime to salvage the win for Vegas, the narrative remained on the game. Considering their past coverage of Michael Sam and Caitlyn Jenner, conservative sports columnist Jason Whitlock was surprised by the lack of fanfare created by ESPN for Nassib.
“I do think ESPN underplayed Nassib’s big night. It’s a positive feel-good story,” Whitlock wrote for The Blaze. “Apparently he legitimately has no interest in allowing the media to exploit his sexual desires,” Whitlock added, assuming ESPN ignored the perspective at the request of Nassib and the Raiders. “This is progress. Nassib wants to be judged as a football player, not by what arouses him sexually.”
This after Whitlock previously wrote Nassib came out as gay in hopes of “cashing in.” Despite Nassib stating “I’m really not doing this for attention,” when he came out in June, Whitlock claimed the defensive end was just looking to attract corporate advertisers and boost his depth chart standing.
After witnessing ESPN’s “undersold” event Monday night, Whitlock acknowledged there was some meaning in the 28-year-old Nassib coming out while he’s still an NFL player.
“There is value in Nassib sharing his sexuality,” Whitlock wrote in his Tuesday op-ed. “His success on pop culture’s most masculine stage, the NFL, makes it less likely that young men who don’t fit traditional masculinity standards will be ostracized and bullied.”
Nassib has been publicly supported by his teammates and the NFL since coming out three months ago. And ESPN’s decision to treat Monday night as a regular game, rather than an event of historic significance, proves the sexuality of professional athletes in North American sports leagues should be a non-issue.