Carl Nassib, NFL’s first out gay player, announces retirement

Former Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib (94) on the sideline during the first half of a game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Las Vegas.
Former Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib (94) on the sideline during the first half of a game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Las Vegas.
AP Photo/Jeff Bottari

Out gay NFL player Carl Nassib, who made history when he came out as gay in 2021, announced his retirement on September 6 — one day before the beginning of the season.

“This is a bittersweet moment for me, but after seven seasons and just over 100 NFL games, I am officially retiring from football to focus on my company Rayze,” Nassib said in a written statement posted on Instagram. Rayze is an app that helps non-profits connect with volunteers and organizations.

In an interview with People, the 30-year-old former linebacker and defensive end said his app wound up consuming much of his time during the season last year when he recalled staying late at the Buccaneers’ facility to work on it. 

For most of his career, Nassib was not widely known — he occasionally started and never stood out with flashy numbers — but his coming out announcement in June of 2021 represented a major milestone in American sports history at a time when no other out NFL player had played in a regular season game. Nassib quickly grew in popularity, especially among the league’s LGBTQ fan base — including when he went public with his partner, swimmer Soren Dahl, earlier this year.

But he also made an impact on the field.

In his first game since coming out, Nassib, then with the Raiders, sacked Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson and forced a fumble on the same play, setting up the game-winning field goal for Las Vegas. Raiders fans continued to don Nassib’s jersey at home games last season, even after Nassib went on to play for the Buccaneers. 

Nassib enjoyed stints with multiple teams throughout his career after he was drafted out of Penn State by the Browns in 2016. He went on to play two seasons in Cleveland before making pit stops with the Buccaneers and Raiders. He returned to the Buccaneers last year for his final season.

“It really feels like just yesterday starting out as a walk-on at Penn State,” Nassib said in his retirement announcement. “Football has given me more than I ever could have imagined. I can truly hang up my helmet for the last time knowing I gave it everything I had. Growing up I loved how fun football was. I loved the pursuit of perfection. I loved the small window where every player has to choose their dreams. It makes it all the more exciting if you get there. It was always my dream to play in the NFL, even as a walk-on, and I really feel like the luckiest guy on the planet.”

Two of Nassib’s best seasons came in 2018 and 2019 when he recorded 6.5 and 6.0 sacks, respectively. He started a career-high 12 games for Cleveland in 2017, which was also the only time he played a full season. In his seventh and final season, Nassib had 23 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and one fumble recovery.

While he is stepping away from the field, Nassib is not done with the NFL. He said in his statement that he plans to continue working with the NFL on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives as well as philanthropy.

“I think that I can provide a very rare and specific view of how life is for an out gay player, and I think that there are some amazing opportunities that I can also learn,” Nassib said in his interview with People.

While Nassib is the first out gay NFL player to play in the regular season, other out players have also made their mark on the league. Defensive end Michael Sam was the first out player to be drafted when the Rams picked him in 2014, but he never made it to a regular season roster. RK Russell, also a defensive end who previously played for the Buccaneers and Cowboys, came out as bisexual when he was a free agent in 2019, but never landed on an NFL roster again.

Dave Kopay, a former NFL running back who played for five teams over nearly a decade in the league, came out as gay in 1975, three years after his final snap. Ryan O’Callaghan, a former offensive lineman for the Chiefs and Patriots from 2006 to 2011, also came out after he retired.

In total, 16 former NFL players have come out, according to Outsports. But only Nassib holds the distinction of playing in an actual NFL game as an out player.

“To anyone who has a dream of being the best, never let anyone convince you it’s impossible,” Nassib said in his announcement. “Be the best you can be in everything you do. Work hard, make smart decisions, and be kind to others. I am so excited for the next chapter of my life and to give Rayze everything I have.”