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Victor Cruz gives bullied gay teen a tour of New York Giants locker room

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Giants star wide receiver Victor Cruz visits with gay bullied teen Joey Kemmerling and talks about their shared experiences as bullied teens.

Ron Antonelli

As part of a partnership between the NFL and USA Network, New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz recently sat down with Joey Kemmerling, a teenager who had been bullied for being gay since he was 13. The bullying got so bad at one point that he quit football and contemplated suicide. From USA:

In NFL Characters Unite, Cruz meets 19-year old Joey Kemmerling, who came out when he was a middle school student. Joey was relentlessly bullied for years because of his sexual orientation. Classmates called him hateful names, physically hurt him and even threatened to light him on fire.

The school locker room was a particularly painful and dangerous place for Joey, as much of the taunting took place there. At one point in high school, the situation got so bad that he contemplated suicide. With the support of his mother, Joey was able to move past the homophobia and harassment he experienced and he decided to use his voice to help stop bullying. He launched a youth-led anti-bullying organization, became active with the nonprofit GLSEN and has spoken to groups of students, educators and even members of Congress.

Now, thanks to Victor Cruz, he gets an opportunity to clear another hurdle: revisiting a locker room, a place that still conjures up painful memories. Cruz takes Joey on a tour of the New York Giants locker room to help him put the agony of his past truly behind him. Joey gains closure he needs to continue on his path to full recovery and learns to Never Say Never to overcoming his fears.

I've heard over and over from NFL players like Michael Irvin and Chris Kluwe and Scott Fujita that they heard plenty of gay slurs in high school but virtually never heard it in the pros. This story reinforces that notion, with a pro like Cruz ready to welcome a gay youth into his locker room and talk at length about the pitfalls of bullying. Homophobia certainly exists in the NFL, but it is simply not a dominant or pervasive force in the League anymore, and its stranglehold on athletes is evaporating.

I'm not sure Cris Collinsworth's intro, claiming Cruz is one of the best wide receivers the NFL has ever seen, is on point -- But the rest of the video is powerful, revealing stuff.

You can follow Kemmerling and Cruz on Twitter.