Willamette University’s kicker, Conner Mertens, has become the first ever still-active college football player to come out publicly.
Mertens announced that he was bisexual in a letter he posted to Twitter on Monday evening, January 27.
Reportedly Mertens came out to his coach Glen Fowles by saying simply, “I’m bisexual. I like dudes. I have a boyfriend. And next week, I’m going to tell the world.”
According to Fowles, throughout his entire twenty-year football career at Willamette, he has had never had to deal with a player coming out to him.
Although he came out to his coach and team leaders earlier on, his teammates were told the evening prior to his public announcement. Their reaction was not what he expected; apparently they were hugely supportive, leaving Mertens “speechless.”
He told Outsports that, ironically, it was the football community that scared Mertens the most when it came to coming out.
Locker room conversations are often focused around the hyper sense of masculinity expected from players, so his decision to come out in a sport where no active players have come out before was an extremely bold one.
Mertens even admitted to his own involvement in homophobic language, saying, “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…I made fun of guys by calling them ‘gay’ or ‘homo’ or ‘queer.’ So I’ve always assumed because everyone wants 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.”
In his letter, which his teammates read the previous evening, he included a personal note to others struggling with their sexuality: “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.”
He then added: “Love yourself and allow others to love you. Be who you are and know you’re not alone.”
Mertens’ decision to come out was largely for personal reasons, although he did state that he hoped other LGBT athletes would be inspired by his actions.