A Washington state man is the first active college football player to come out as bi-sexual, according to FOX Sports.
Conner Mertens is a kicker for Willamette University in Oregon. He’s originally from Kennewick, Washington and says being raised in Eastern Washington is part of the reason he decided to come out.
“Eastern Washington is definitely not Western Washington,” Mertens tells KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz, describing the area he grew up as a very small town and sometimes small minded. “I want to see it change for the better.”
Being involved in sports all his life, Mertens says looking back, he thinks he contributed to the environment that makes it hard to come out in sports.
“I definitely contributed to it when I was younger, in the teasing, the homophobic comments that come up in sports, calling somebody gay, calling somebody a homo when they mess up,” says Mertens. “I definitely contributed to that. It was a weakness and I’m very disappointed in myself now that I wasn’t strong enough to be able to stand out and not be one of those people.”
But Mertens decided to finally make that stand and says the reaction from his coaches and teammates was a big relief.
“My coach, since day one he’s always had an open door policy, and the way it worked I came up to his office, I knocked on the door and said, ‘Coach I’m about to utilize the crap out of your open door policy.’ We just sat down, had a great conversation. He was completely accepting, didn’t even bat an eye when I told him.”
His teammates were equally accepting.
“Honestly, I didn’t know how it was going to go. I thought there would be some guys that would pick on me. Some kids that would not want to be around me, not want to associate with me, but it was the complete opposite. I’m tighter to the guys now than I’ve ever been all year.”
For years, Mertens says he played the moment of telling his teammates over and over in his mind. He says he trusted them as people, but had heard so many horror stories he was afraid for a long time.
“I heard growing up of kids coming out getting beat up, bullied. There are statistics that three LGBT kids commit suicide a day, and I didn’t want to become a statistic, so it was easier for me to stay in the closet and not tell anyone.”
But now he’s received a great reaction from his team, his family and friends. Many people are commending him for coming out. But he says he’s still seeing some negative reaction, too.
“Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of ignorance. I was just checking out one of the news stations facebook who posted the article and a lot of the comments were very bigoted and very ignorant and tough to read,” says Mertens. “But those were the people I was hoping to reach by this so hopefully we can see some change here pretty soon.”