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Openly gay athlete named co-captain of University of Oklahoma track and field team

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Tanner Williams has not heard a single negative comment since coming out.

Tanner Williams, left, with his husband, Scott Williams
Tanner Williams, left, with his husband, Scott Williams

I sat with the members of my University of Oklahoma track and field team during a recent regular team meeting. This one had a twist — our head coach Jim VanHootegem was going to reveal the five men and five women who would be named co-captains.

There are more than 100 athletes and 20 staff members that make up our team. There are so many incredible athletes and incredible teammates that are qualified to be a captain. I was hoping to get one of the spots but still sat there nervous as the coach started reading the names. Much to my surprise, I heard my name called as a captain.

I was filled with many emotions that I cannot explain. I was happy, relieved, excited and honored that my teammates and coaches thought of me in a way to be a leader. I can say one thing: I am going to make one heck of a team captain. Not only for me, but for every LGBT athlete.

About three years ago I was not out to anyone. I was a scared teenager who challenged every thought I had about being gay. The thought of accepting who I was and who I really wanted to be was terrifying. But then I had a thought:  Why would I need the acceptance of others to be happy when God created me and who I am as a person?

Little did I know I would have an incredible amount of support. I eventually decided that I would come out to my closest friends and didn't even think twice about coming out to my family and teammates. Then it all changed. I met my wonderful and stunning husband, Scott Williams. He gave me the confidence and the strength to be more than just average. When decided to get married, we didn't tell anyone. It was like a love story that you see in a movie. On May 7, 2014, we both came out publicly over Facebook with our relationship status as engaged. He was already out to all of his family and even more to his friends, but we both were reserved to come out to our peers.

After getting married, both of our lives changed. We are happy and so much in love that nothing can bring us down without us picking up each other. I went through my junior year of college athletics without a single negative comment from anyone in all of Division I athletics. I had track athletes congratulate me from universities such as Texas Tech, Texas, Kansas, UCLA, Stanford, LSU, South Dakota and Arkansas €”and from many other schools.

I am the only openly gay male athlete in all of OU athletics. And I am the first (from what anyone knows) Division I openly gay and married athlete. This in itself is gratifying enough for me to finish out my athletic career proud and happy for what I have accomplished. But even more changed when I was asked to be an executive officer for Oklahoma's Bridge Builders multicultural organization, where I would stand by athletes such as OU linebacker Eric Striker and women's basketball center Kaylon Williams to bring diversity and inclusion in sports. This was all in my junior year.

I did not expect much for my senior year other than to finish it out and move on to the next chapter of my life. But even more changed. I am completely overwhelmed with the amount of support that I am still getting from my teammates. I am respected as an individual, and even more as a teammate. Coach VanHootegem also asked me to represent and coordinate an Adopt-A-School program representing our team at Eisenhower Elementary in Norman, Oklahoma. The program involves our athletes spending time with the kids and helping them with simple things such as math, reading and exercising. When we have our home track meet in April, we are inviting the school to come and compete in a kids race around the track to get them involved as well as get family and friends involved with Oklahoma Track and Field.

This school year has been so far the best year of my life. I am incredibly honored and proud to be a student-athlete for Oklahoma and getting to wear those letters across my chest. Life really does get better when you are true to yourself, and to those around you. You won't have to hide anything from anyone, giving yourself the chance to be great.

If I could go back in time to change anything, I would not. I am a happy and lucky man and honored to be able to share my story as well as my love with those around me. I am blessed to have voice in changing the world. 

OU track

Tanner Williams, third from right in the front row, with the coaches and captains of the OU track and field team.

Tanner Williams is a senior double majoring in General Management and Nursing at the University of Oklahoma. He is also a pole vaulter on the track and field team. He can be reached via email at williamstanner21@gmail.com, on Facebook, Twitter (@jtannerwilliams), and Instagram (Will2Tan).