As a Division III player, Connor Mertens may not be the most high profile college footballer, but he has achieved something that no college football player has ever done before. A freshman kicker at Willamette University in Oregon, he took a giant step forward for LGBT sportsmen and women today when he became the first active college football player to come out publicly.
When he initially spoke to his coach last week, Mertens said, “I’m bisexual. I like dudes. I have a boyfriend. And next week, I’m going to tell the world.”
Of his coach’s reaction, Mertens said, “Coach didn’t blink an eye. He talked about how they don’t build football players at Willamette, they build men, and that he was proud that I could tell him this about myself.”
Mertens admits it was not an easy decision to tell his coach and his teammates, let alone to tell the world. For a college footballer, coming out was truly unchartered territory, as whilst some college football players have previously come out to their friends or teammates, no one has ever before made the decision to discuss it in public.
Before the news broke publicly in Outsports, Mertens’ coach discussed the news with the team, and following the meeting, many of the players sent Mertens text messages of support:
“I’m proud of you brother. [It] Takes a whole lot of courage. I got your back. If you need anything don’t hesitate. Love you man.”
“I’m on the leadership council so I read your letter today, and I just wanted you to know I support you 100%. Doesn’t matter what your sexuality is, you’re a bearcat, one of us, and me and everyone else has your back. You ever need ANYTHING, let me know. Asses kicked, whatever it is, you’ve got me.”
In terms of his teammates’ response, Mertens said, “It’s been insanely incredible. I’m speechless. That is the only word I can use to describe this. Even a lot of the guys on the football team I was most scared of are the ones who have been the most amazing.”
It is hoped that Mertens’ story will act to inspire other young men and women to embrace who they are, and encourage those around them to react with the overwhelming acceptance and support that he received from his teammates.
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