On the Non-Crisis of Carl Nassib’s Announcement

Thom Weidlich 06.24.21


If a big goal of crisis management is to avoid a crisis — and it is — then it’s fitting to celebrate such successes, especially when they come about at least partly because of deft communications. Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib’s announcement that he’s gay — the first active NFL player to come out — is such a case.

Nassib’s Instagram announcement Monday, June 21, was low key. “I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” he said. Nassib (pictured, right) added that he hoped for the day when this wouldn’t be noteworthy and also that he was giving $100,000 to The Trevor Project, which seeks to prevent LGBTQ youth suicide.

Responses from those concerned made it a non-crisis — we might have had a different outcome only a few years ago.

“I was proud of Carl when he led the nation in sacks, but I’m even more proud of him now,” James Franklin, Nassib’s coach at Penn State, tweeted. The Raiders said, simply, “Proud of you, Carl.” The NFL tweeted similarly, “The NFL family is proud of you, Carl.”

Proud Family

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a brief statement that echoed Nassib’s own: “The NFL family is proud of Carl for courageously sharing his truth today.  Representation matters.  We share his hope that someday soon statements like his will no longer be newsworthy as we march toward full equality for the LGBTQ+ community. We wish Carl the best of luck this coming season.”

Compare this to just a few years ago, in 2014, when Michael Sam was the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL. He ended up never playing during a regular season, and whether his disclosure had to do with that is controversial; it was still a year before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was legal.

This week, Sam himself put out a congratulatory tweet about Nassib’s news. “Carl Nassib thank you for owning your truth and especially your donation to the @TrevorProject,” he wrote.

Homophobic Joke

It wasn’t all happy news. Joy Behar was roundly criticized for a homophobic joke about Nassib’s announcement she told on The View.

But, other than that, something that would have been viewed as a potentially sticky situation just a few years ago, came off as a non-event — or even a cause for celebration. The NFL itself may have helped: Just last year it released a PSA called “National Coming Out Day PSA” in which both “out” former players and current stars encouraged current LGBTQ+ players to not hide their orientation.

Another sign of change: In the 24 hours after Nassib’s Instagram video, his was the best-selling jersey on the Fanatics e-commerce site.

Happy Pride Month!

Photo Credit: Las Vegas Raiders

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter on crisis communications. Each week we highlight a crisis story in the news or a survey or study with an eye toward the type of best practices and strategies you can put to work each day. Click here to subscribe.

Related:Washington NFL Team Confronts Harassment Claims