stylin' and profilin'

College football star Byron Perkins stars in an NFL ad, while he balls out during his senior season

Byron Perkins

Last year at this time, Byron Perkins famously removed his mask and came out as gay. It’s been a whirlwind for the HBCU college football star since then, with appearances on numerous TV shows and networks, including his own spot in a CBS Sports documentary and special Pride interview on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

And now, Perkins can add a new piece of exposure to his ever-expanding resume. The Hampton University defensive back is featured in a new ad for NFL Shop!

“I would say I draw inspiration from my mother. She’s got some nice swag,” he said in a pre-shoot interview. “Just her demeanor and the way she carries herself. My father as well.”

As far as the piece of football fashion that Perkins takes most seriously, it’s all about the cleats.

“I always love my cleats. Cleats gotta be fresh,” he said.

We agree! One pair of fresh cleats for this gridiron stud, please!

Perkins shared the commercial Wednesday on his Instagram Story. In it, he’s spotted shuffling down the sidewalk in a stylish blue and white tie-die shirt, complete with a Chicago Bears logo on his right peck.

The contrasts pop! Perkins’ orange athletic shorts (they look like 5-inch inseam to us, hunny), are the perfect finishing touch.

The kid’s got style.

There are a couple of reasons why Perkins’ inclusion in an NFL Shop commercial is so significant. For starters, it’s pretty damn cool to see an out college football player in an NFL ad. Perkins became the first out active football player in HBCU history last fall, and has been intent on increasing his visibility ever since.

In a post-coming out interview with Outsports, he articulated the significance of his announcement.

“Especially at an HBCU, young Black gay men need an outlet,” he said. “They need a support system. There hasn’t been an out gay football athlete at an HBCU. I want to end the stigma of what people think. I want people to know they can be themselves.”

Perkins knows about the power of authenticity first hand. He says being closeted brought him down on and off the field.

“I felt as if I was constricting myself,” he said on ESPN. “I felt as if I wasn’t able to be free and because I wasn’t able to be free, it was condemning who I wanted to be. It was condemning the football player. It was condemning even the person. Ultimately, I had to make the decision as to whether or not I was going to keep embodying my mask, or whether or not I was going to embody myself. 

“So I made the ultimate decision of making sure I embody myself, instead of trying to live up to the expectations of what society and what other people have of me. I decided to focus on what I wanted out of my own life.”

Thanks to the new “name, image and likeness” standards (NIL), college athletes are now free to profit off of themselves. Finally, they can chase the same business opportunities as the pros.

In other words, they enjoy far more control over their own lives, just like Perkins experienced when he came out.

It is apparent Perkins is taking advantage of the NIL rules, too. His agent’s name is in his Instagram bio.

In his senior campaign, Perkins has recorded 11 tackles and come up with one pick in five games. His best effort, and interception, came against Norfolk State September 9.

The Pirates play their games in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). They’re 3-4 on the season, and 1-3 in conference play.

Last year, Hampton entered the season with the highest NCAA ranking among all HBCU football programs, but fell short of expectations. After winning their first three games, they went 1-7 and finished with a losing record.

Still, Perkins was a bright spot, leading the team with three passes broken up. He has two passes broken up already this year.

We’ll see if Perkins’ football career continues post-college. He appears to have plenty of confidence.

“Please don’t underestimate me,” he wrote in an Instagram post last summer.

While only five HBCU players have been selected in the NFL Draft over the last three years, there were 16 in the NFL last season. Perhaps Perkins will get a look.

Regardless, he’s already appeared in an NFL production this year. That’s a worthy accomplishment in and of itself.

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