On Monday, Conner Mertens made history when he became the first college football player at any level to come out of the closet. Mertens, who is a redshirt freshman at D-III Willamette University in Oregon, made the announcement first to his coach and then to teammates that he was bisexual on Monday.
Mertens decided to come out publicly in hopes of helping somebody else avoid the feelings of loneliness and depression he felt growing up in the small, conservative town of Kennewick, Wash.
Via CBS Sports:
“For me, growing up, I always felt that the biggest thing that caused my depression was the feeling of being alone,” Mertens said. “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.”
Mertens said that had someone from his mostly conservative town of Kennewick, Wash., come out before him, it would’ve made his decision much easier. Mertens penned a letter to his hometown, explaining his decision. That can be read here.
“I had a smile on my face all the time, 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’ve been a lot happier,” he said.
Mertens biggest fear was coming out to his teammates. He was afraid they would exile him and consider him weak and not masculine because of his sexuality.
“I’ve been around athletes all my life. I’ve heard the stuff we say. I say ‘we’ because I’m not going to lie, I contributed to it when I was younger. I made fun of guys by calling them ‘gay’ or ‘homo’ or ‘queer.’ So I’ve always assumed that because everyone wants me to be masculine, and because they see being gay as a weakness, they’d label me that and not give me a fair shot on the field.”
Mertens said he was surprised by the positive response he received after revealing his sexuality and he’s thrilled that the only thing his coaches and teammates care about is how good his leg is.
When Jason Collins decided to come out last year he began a trend of athletes unafraid and unashamed of who they are. Many athletes will see the positive reactions and also find the courage to do the same.