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To fully understand just how brave, how stunning, how historic it is for Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib to come out as gay, being the first active NFL player to do so, you have to go back in history. You have to start with the opposite of now. You have to start with fear. With anger. With hate.

All of those things likely forced a legion of NFL players to stay cloaked and hide who they truly were. They couldn’t publicly say they were gay because they might be physically attacked in the locker room. Or cut by the team. Or any number of other things that could have destroyed them or their careers.

So they stayed quiet. They took their secrets with them out of the league and in some cases, probably to their deaths. Who knows how many players stayed in the closet throughout NFL history? Dozens? Hundreds? More?

Carl Nassib of the Raiders

Decades before Nassib, there was Dave Kopay, who kept his orientation secret, coming out three years after his football career ended. Sports Illustrated wrote of Kopay: “For much of his time with the 49ers, Lions, Washington, Saints and Packers, Kopay didn’t come out even to himself. He tried many of the classic countermeasures: He entered a minor seminary for a while (before transferring to a regular Catholic high school) and married a stewardess. He didn’t want to be gay.”



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