It seems like every other
month week day a high school or college athlete comes out publicly, culminating last week in the highest profile one to date, Michael Sam, all-American defensive end and budding NFL draft pick.
Since it’s getting harder to keep track of these guys, we’ve rounded up a few of the notables who have done something extremely courageous: Coming out not only at an early age, in often homophobic sports, and without the luxury of multi-million dollar guaranteed contracts pros enjoy.
You don’t have to be an ESPN analyst to predict that at least one is going to become or inspire the holy grail of teams sports: The openly pro star everyone is waiting for — ahem, Aaron Rodgers and/or Colin Kaepernick — to come out and show the world we can shine among the word’s best team sports athletes as well.
Scroll down to see just a few of our favorite trailblazing champions.
24-year-old Missouri Tigers defensive lineman/NFL hopeful Michael Sam is the most recent and most high profile athlete to come out. Sam talked about his sexual orientation in interviews with both the New York Times and ESPN last week. “I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” he told NYT. “I just want to own my truth.”
Trailblazer Corey Johnson made a name for himself way back in 2000 when he became the nation’s first out high school football player. ”Someday I want to get beyond being that gay football captain,” Johnson told NYT at the time. And “get beyond” he has. In 2013, Johnson was elected to the New York City Council, a rising star in the equally bruising world of politics.
Conner Mertens and Chandler Whitney
Last month, Willamette University freshman Conner Mertens became the first openly LGBT college football player. He was profiled in a lengthy post by OutSports, which seems to have a coming out story every day now. Days later, his boyfriend, college baseball player Chandler Whitney, followed suit. Together they became college sports’ first out gay couple.
Here’s hoping they live happily ever after.
Texas A&M University swimmer Amini Fonua came out in May 2013. A&M is ranked as the most conservative university and 7th-most unfriendly LGBT campus in America by the Princeton Review. Surprisingly, however, Fonua didn’t report many problems on campus. “[The Team Captain] said that if anybody marginalized me because of who I was, he wanted to know about it immediately,” Fonua told Swim Swam. “Hate is not an Aggie value, and if anything remotely hateful was happening, he promised to end it.”
Shippensburg University track & field sprinter LeQuan Chapman shared his story on Out Sports last month. Chapman was raised in a single parent home and struggled with accepting his sexuality. It wasn’t until his third year of college that he came out. “You are no less a person than anyone else,” Chapman wrote, “and once you realize that, you’ll understand that you should have the very best.”
In February 2013, third-baseman and co-captain of the baseball squad at MIT Sean Karson came out to his teammates. “They gave me high fives and said they’d have my back and everything,” Karson told the Boston Herald. “It was so supportive, it was ridiculous.”
Kenyon College lacrosse player Holden Richards’ unique coming out story was detailed by Out Sports in January 2014. “It was beaten into me every single day of my life that being gay was wrong,” Richards said. “It took until last year to realize it’s all a load of bullshit.” Despite Richards’ internal turmoil, coming out to his teammates proved to be a non-issue. “They figured if I can play, it doesn’t matter that I like boys,” he explained. “And everything was cool after that.”
19-year-old Jesse Klug, a soccer-playing sophomore at Bucknell University, made headlines last October when published an open letter on OutSports that challenged people who still believe being gay is a choice. “Sexual orientation should not be a defining characteristic of a person,” Klug wrote. “My teammates view me as an athlete; as part of their team working towards the same goals. We struggle and succeed together … Being gay is part of who I am; it is not what I am.”
Earlier this month, Moravian College runner Max Korten wrote about the challenges in coming out to his teammates. “Coming out was like ripping off a Band-Aid,” Korten wrote. “When I finally came out to my teammates, they were all accepting.”
In an interview with OutSports published last week, New Jersey Institute of Technology swimmer Jay Friestad talked about coming out at his Plano, Texas high school, as well as doing the same with his college swim team. Friestad said he didn’t have any problems: “It was pretty awesome to say the least. I really appreciated how easy they made it for me.”
22-year-old Derek Schell became the first openly gay NCAA Division II basketball player when he came out in October 2013. “You can be who you are and still be an athlete,” Schell wrote. “You can do all the things you want to do and live a beautiful life that you’ve imagined for yourself. Find your peace of mind knowing you are giving your best self to the world. Be brave. Be love. But most of all, be you.”