When I read the story about the first active football player coming out, two things impressed me.
For those who missed it, Conner Mertens, a kicker at tiny Willamette University in Oregon, publicly came out this week. He’s the first active player on any level to have done so.
First thing that got my attention is that the story was, if not buried, then lower on the screen. I almost overlooked it. I consider that a good sign. The fact that every coming out story is not treated like an earthshaking event worthy of a constant CNN scrolling newsbreak is, finally, a good sign.
Second was that the team’s leadership council supported him on it. Good for them. Back when I was in high school, the worst thing you could possibly call someone was gay. Fag, homo, whatever word you wanted to use it was the nuclear bomb of insults, the ultimate humiliation. If you were actually gay, you’d never admit it; if you did, you’d never be able to play sports. Not that the school could stop you, but it wouldn’t take long to understand how unwelcome you were in the locker room.
I’m under no delusion that everyone on the team is thrilled to have him there. Some, understandably, probably don’t want the distraction. Others may be uncomfortable with sharing a uniform, as well as a locker room, with a gay player (in Mertens’ case, bisexual). But I’m betting that they’ll be willing to go along with it, just like the leadership council, as long as he does his job on the field and they win.
It took guts for Merten to come out; he had no way of knowing how his coaches and teammates would react. Hopefully, this will make it easier for others to do the same down the road.