Conner Mertens, a freshman kicker at Willamette University in Oregon, is being hailed as the first “out” college football player in history after coming out as bisexual in a lengthy tweet last night.
He’s being profiled in a massive post on Out Sports today, in which he hopes his story will inspire other LGBT athletes to come out of the closet.
Mertens hasn’t had the opportunity to play much since landing a spot on the Division III team, but says he wanted to start his career in an honest way. Last week, he marched into head coach Glen Fowles’ office and declared “I’m bisexual. I like dudes. I have a boyfriend. And next week, I’m going to tell the world.”
Mertens tells Out Sports he knew coming out publicly was a “big risk,” but has experienced unwavering support from both teammates and other players across the country through an influx of text messages and phone calls. He cites “breaking stereotypes” as one of his major motivations for coming out:
I hate the stereotypes that go along with liking the same sex. You don’t have to follow the stereotype to be this way. I made the decision that if I could help anyone else avoid feeling the way I felt, I would…I had a smile on my face all the time as a kid, but I was dying on the inside. In my hometown, you have to fit in or you’ll be exiled. If somebody had come out that I looked up to in the town, I would have been a lot happier.
His coming out tweet, now favorited over 600 times, encourages other athletes in his position to embrace their sexuality openly:
You are not alone. You do not need to come out but you do need to know that you do not have to go at this by yourself. The aloneness you’re feeling is temporary and it will get better. This place is changing…changing for the better. I made the decision that if I could prevent one person from feeling that self-hatred, loneliness, desperation and a thousand other emotions that I felt, I would. I will be damned if I let anyone tell you that you are wrong or weird or not normal.
Love yourself and allow others to love you. Be who you are and know you’re not alone.
Learn more about Conner Mertens and his coming out process over at Out Sports.