The NFL now has the first openly gay player in league history after Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib came out, but Buffalo Bills legend Bruce Smith shared this week that there have been gay players in the league for much longer than that — though not as open as Nassib.
After years of speculation and rumors that one or more players were ready to come out, Nassib made history in a post in which he announced that he is an openly gay man. In praising Nassib, the legendary Bills defensive end said that he had gay teammates in Buffalo and it was never an issue in the locker room.
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Smith Opens Up On Bills Teams
Speaking to TMZ, Smith revealed that he had a gay teammate on the Bills — and possibly another one as well. He noted that it was never an issue for him or his teammates.
“We had a gay player in our locker room,” Smith said. “I think it was the mid- to late-90s, and I think we might have had two. But that wasn’t what we were focused on. We were focused on winning games. And each and every person that was in that locker room was contributing to the goal at hand, which was winning football games. None of that other stuff mattered. This was about winning football games and trying to be a good person.”
There had been some worry that an openly gay NFL player could face a backlash from teammates, but Smith wanted people to know that he didn’t think this would be the case. Even in the 1990s, a time when society in general was less accepting and majority approval of gay marriage was still more than a decade away, he said it was not an issue. Smith said he hopes to see a greater move toward acceptance.
“Obviously, we like to see the inclusion part,” Smith said of Nassib’s announcement. “We like to see folks that understand that the world is changing and you have to embrace those that may be a little bit different and it’s okay.”
While Nassib is the first active player to come out as gay, there have been a handful of NFL players who came out after retiring. But there were none connected to the Bills teams of the mid to late 90s, leaving the exact identity of Smith’s teammate a mystery.
Nassib Finds Widespread Support
The Bills legend is not the only one speaking up with words of support for Nassib and other gay players. Players around the NFL sent messages praising his announcement, and the league itself issued a statement standing with him.
“The NFL family is proud of Carl for courageously sharing his truth today,” the statement read. “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.”
Others in leadership positions have praised Nassib as well, including Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay who shared a message praising the Raiders pass rusher for his bravery.