LOS ANGELES, June 22 (Reuters) - The Las Vegas Raiders' Carl Nassib could become one of the most recognizable faces in football as brands line up to be associated with the National Football League's first openly gay active player, marketing experts told Reuters on Tuesday.
The defensive end said he had agonized about making the announcement for the past 15 years but was immediately greeted with supportive messages from the league, his team, and fellow players, who all praised his courage.
Fans responded by making his jersey the top-seller on Monday and Tuesday, according to ESPN, and now corporate America is poised to throw its support behind the trailblazing figure too.
Nassib could be recruited to star in ads for outspoken brands such as Nike or Gillette, which have previously produced commercials that address racial justice and harmful masculine stereotypes, respectively, said Mike Hernandez, director of creative strategy at The Mixx, a New York-based marketing agency that focuses on communicating to LGBTQ audiences.
"I think brands like Nike and Adidas are going to realize that by endorsing someone who's identified as LGBTQ, they just stand for someone who's innovative and future thinking. And younger consumers care about that, even if they themselves don't identify as LGBTQ," he said.
Nassib's decision to announce that he is gay while he is still an active NFL player "is probably the biggest LGBTQ story to come out" for the league, Hernandez added.
"The fact that he's going to be on television every Sunday is pretty impactful," he said.
Brands that seek to work with Nassib should take care to ensure they are not exploiting the athlete's story, Hernandez said.
"Rainbow-washing is real," he said.
Brands should be sensitive and do their homework on what role Nassib or other athletes could add to a marketing campaign, rather than attempt to make a "cash grab advertising-wise," he added.
It helps that Nassib is an established NFL player who signed a three-year contract with the Raiders last year. That increased the likelihood that "his inclusion (in an ad) will likely be perceived as sincere and not just a matter of tokenism," said Charles Taylor, a marketing professor at Villanova School of Business.
The NFL could also show it values inclusion and tolerance by promoting Nassib, provided the league also comes off as sincere.
"I'd like to think that the NFL would use him as a standard-bearer to promote sexual equality, racial equality, just generally treating people as equals no matter what your preferences are," said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco.
"It's a good thing and hopefully the NFL will capitalize positively on it and it won't just be lip service, it will be a serious positive response from them."
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles, Sheila Dang in Dallas and Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)