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Like many who identify as LGBTQ+, I welcomed and supported Carl Nassib announcing he is a proud gay man. In fact, as an NFL fan and season ticket holder with the Miami Dolphins, I hoped that this would be a turning point for a professional entertainment sports league that has such a huge cultural impact on and influence with hundreds of millions of fans, with many still being anti-LGBTQ+. But then I read NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's statement, and it left me hollow both in its double meaning and secondly, in lack of recognition of bigger issues facing the "march towards equality" I wish it would have expanded and addressed. Here's his original and only statement:
"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 towards full equality for the LGBTQ+ community. We wish Carl the best of luck this coming season."
While Commissioner Goodell's first two sentences gave me hope, his last two sentences caused me pause, and here's why. "We share his hope someday soon statements like this will no longer by newsworthy..." This statement struck me as pandering to both the LGBTQ+ community and those NFL fans who are anti-LGBTQ+. It's a beautiful stroke of public relations brilliance to many of us who have been in the corporate PR game. On one hand, the statement appeals to many in the LGBTQ+ community because we never want to be making news just for our sexual identity, nor should we in an era of equality. On the other hand, this statement plays to the historical anti-LGBTQ+, macho male, closeted environment of the NFL and certainly to a large swath of current fans with zero tolerance for anything but. If you read this statement from a perspective of exclusion, you would actually agree with Goodell that we never want to hear news about sexual identity from the NFL again. This is not the intended nor desired interpretation, but after the National Anthem controversy, Goodell has been very mindful of TV ratings in commenting on any polarizing issue.
The word "full" in front of equality is also not needed. You see, equality is not binary. Either you have it or you don't. And this was the biggest miss of all in my opinion on Goodell's statement. He should have gone on to acknowledge that there are likely more NFL players who identify across the LGBTQ+ spectrum and support that is available from the NFL. He also had the immense opportunity and dare I say, responsibility, to address another significant crisis --the growing HIV rate among Black gay and bisexual men who are also NFL fans. Here's what I wish Roger Goodell would have said:
"The NFL family is proud of Carl For courageously sharing his truth today. Representation matters. The NFL is committed to equality for all.
"We know Carl is not alone even in the NFL. We encourage others in the NFL who identify as LGBTQ+ to take advantage of our mental health and other resources to help find your true self and be as proud as Carl to both share and live it. With more than 80 percent of our players being BIPOC, we know stigma continues in this community against living a true LGBTQ+ identity. We are reminded of this stigma in another silent pandemic, with the CDC reporting that we are approaching 50 percent of Black gay and bisexual men living with HIV. In America. In 2021. This is a reminder to all who read these words to get tested, get treated if positive, and share status with those you are intimate.
"In order for all of us to live equally as Americans, we have to begin showing love, concern, and resources to help those in the NFL, our fans, and every American live and thrive in their truth. We thank Carl for his courage, example, and reminder that we still have much work to do, but make no mistake, the NFL is taking a leadership role in the march to equality for all. We support Carl and those in the NFL today and in the future who also identify as LGBTQ+. We encourage the entire NFL family to embrace Carl and support his truth."
The last sentence of wishing Carl "luck" in the upcoming season could also be interpreted as the common American phrase "good luck," which can be delivered both with endearing sincerity or caustic dismissiveness as if you'll never succeed. You can also read this statement both ways depending on your beliefs.
Carl needs more than luck from the NFL. He, like others, needs support, calls for inclusion and use of his example to help millions, like me, who love and support the game. In the future, I hope Roger Goodell and the entire NFL family, including advertisers and TV networks, encourage such expanded statements of inclusion, support, and equality for all.
Michael Kelley is a resident of Pompano Beach, Fla., and Provincetown, Mass.