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174 LGBT athletes from Power Five Conference schools have come out publicly

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We know of 174 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes who have come out from the ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten. That’s a lot.

Minnesota Golden Gophers v Purdue Boilermakers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

A friend visited Andrew Langenfeld in Israel a couple years ago, and they went to a bar near the beach.

At the bar, a man approached Langenfeld. Though Langenfeld didn’t know the guy at all, the man said, “Hi Andrew.”

“Hi, how do I know you?” said Langenfeld, who has worked in Israel for six years.

The man told Langfeld, “You swam at Purdue. I was at Purdue when you came out.

“You don’t realize the impact that the article that was on Outsports had on my life. I wasn’t an athlete, but I was a 20-year-old gay kid coming out to his friends, his family, and his frat brothers. Actually seeing a swimmer at my school doing so well, and coming out, and still being accepted — you have no idea the effect that had on me and how much that allowed me to be who I am today just because you put your story out there.”

This happened about five years after Langenfeld finished his Purdue swimming career in 2009. The two men talked at the bar for about 10 minutes before rejoining their friends.

Langenfeld received dozens of messages through social media after his 2008 story, but no message resonated as much as hearing and seeing that man’s appreciation. Langenfeld previously felt bothered that a story about his sexuality, not his Big Ten and All-American swimming, remained the top Google result for his name, but his feelings changed at a bar on a beach more than 5,000 miles from West Lafayette, Indiana.

“A person you’ve never met standing in front of your face saying thank you to you and feeling it — I realized it was a big deal,” Langenfeld said. “It wasn’t until I met him that I realized this is way bigger.”

Athletes hold a place of deity in American society, and the best amateur athletes in America tend to compete in one of the NCAA’s Power Five Conferences — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC.

Of the current universities in those five conferences, 174 varsity athletes have ever identified publicly as LGBT. The month of October is LGBT History Month, making it an appropriate time to reflect on the history of LGBT athletes.

The history starts with California Berkeley’s Hubert Stowitts, a track athlete from 1912-15, who is the first known LGBT athlete from the Power Five. Stowitts and the 174 athletes chronicled for this story were determined primarily by searching stories by Outsports and The Advocate along with general Internet searches, and each university LGBT center was contacted to prevent omissions.

The conference with the most out athletes is the Pac-12 with 56 followed by the Big Ten with 55. Stanford University is the individual leader with 19 athletes to ever come out publicly — spanning 1970s women’s basketball player Mariah Burton Nelson to gymnast Bryan McColgan, who came out in August more than a decade after he finished competing. The universities with the most out athletes after Stanford are Purdue (11), Cal Berkeley (9), Michigan (7), and UCLA (7).

Also, 12 of the 65 universities have never had an athlete come out publicly. They are Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas State, Kentucky, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and Washington State.

The top three sports where athletes have come out are women’s basketball (38), men’s swimming and diving (37), and football (20).

“That’s interesting. That’s higher than I would expect [for football],” said Dorien Bryant, who came out six years after playing football at Purdue. “In my sport, everything really is the same, it’s been the same. When guys have come out, it’s when they’re done.”

Desiring a different grail

When the University of Illinois football team reached the 1984 Rose Bowl, an alumnus invited the team to his house for dinner. The houses of most alumni may not be exciting, but Hugh Hefner is an Illinois alumnus, which meant this dinner was at the Playboy Mansion.

“For some of these guys, it was the holy grail,” said Todd Searcy, a freshman linebacker at the time. “It didn’t mean a thing to me.”

Searcy came out publicly as gay in 2012, but it was that trip to the Playboy Mansion that first made him realize the stark difference between him and his teammates. He saw his teammates in heterosexual heaven.

“For me, it was just so boring because I’m attracted to the security guards,” Searcy said. “I’m not attracted to the half-naked women walking us around and going into the grotto.”

Only former NFL and University of Washington star Dave Kopay, who came out in 1975, was a publicly out football player as Searcy started his Illinois career. Now, Searcy and Kopay are two of the 20 former major college football players that are out publicly.

A couple factors contribute to football ranking so high for the number of publicly out athletes from Power Five Conference schools — the number of scholarships and longevity of relevance. Each university offers 85 football scholarships, four times the scholarships of any other sport. Also, the popularity of football creates interest in the athletes long after their college careers.

While men’s basketball is similarly popular, each basketball team awards 13 scholarships a year. The smaller teams contribute to the disparity of 20 LGBT football player to three men’s basketball players ever publicly coming out. The three men’s basketball players are John Amaechi (Vanderbilt/Penn State), Jason Collins (Stanford), and Zach Puchtel (Minnesota) — and Puchtel said in 2008, a year after coming out, that he no longer identifies as gay.

Searcy, 51 years old, and Bryant, 31, both know there have been many more gay football players than we’ll ever know. In fact, Bryant says he wasn’t the only gay football player at Purdue during his career.

“It’s easier to go with the flow than it is to try to buck the system,” Searcy said of being openly gay. “It’s a harder road, much more difficult, but for me, it was the right one. Other people have to learn as they go on.”

You Can Play resonates

“I’m a conference champion, and I’m an out student here at Notre Dame,” said Matt Dooley in the Notre Dame’s 2014 “You Can Play” video.

North Carolina State women’s basketball player Ashley Eli saw the video about a year later, and that moment resonated with her. At the point she saw the video, the only person she had talked to about being gay was a sports psychologist.

The Notre Dame video inspired Eli to push NC State to do its own “You Can Play” video, and when the university made the video in the fall of 2015 at the start of her senior year, it included Eli saying “I am gay.” The video is on YouTube but was primarily circulated internally, so this is the first time Eli has talked about being gay.

“The video definitely gave me a deadline to tell people that I wanted to tell beforehand,” Eli said. “It kind of forced me to come out, which needed to happen at some point anyway. The video definitely helped me get on the right track to just being who I am.”

Eli said she only received positive support from family, friends, teammates and coaches on her journey to being one of the 38 women’s basketball players from the Power Five Conferences to come out publicly.

The first of those 38 athletes to come out occurred in scandalous headlines as South Carolina head coach Pam Parsons and player Tina Buck started a relationship. Buck’s name became public after a 1984 perjury charge, where Buck plead guilty of lying under oath in Parson’s libel lawsuit against Sports Illustrated for a 1982 story that revealed the relationship.

A stigma rooted in that story lingered, leading major women’s college basketball players to come out once they were playing professionally or after their careers. But as the 2016-17 season starts, there is evidence of growing acceptance.

Currently in Division I women’s basketball, there are one player (Bree Horrocks, Purdue) and two coaches who are publicly out lesbians. The coaches are Vanderbilt head coach Stephanie White (played at Purdue), and San Francisco assistant coach Blair Hardiek (played at Missouri).

Horrocks, who came out seven months before Eli, is believed to be the first active women’s basketball player to come out publicly at a Power Five Conference school. Hardiek came out publicly just seven months ago, and White is returning to college coaching this year after nine years coaching in the WNBA.

“It just needs to keep evolving to where it’s not such taboo to talk about it, and it just becomes normal, more so than it is now,” Eli said of women’s basketball’s approach to lesbian athletes and coaches. “Women’s sports have come a long way in a lot of lights.”

Purdue

When Ryan Dafforn wrote a story for Outsports in 2013 about his experience being a gay men’s swimmer at Purdue, the response from Purdue men’s swimming head coach Dan Ross meant more than anyone’s.

Dafforn’s college career ended in 2011, and during his senior year and subsequently, he came out as gay to all his friends and family. But he never had a conversation about being gay with Ross, so the article provided him the opportunity to send Ross a message. Dafforn thanked him for creating the environment at Purdue that allowed him to accept himself.

“He never specially spoke about LGBTQ issues or inclusion,” Dafforn said of his time as Ross’ athlete. “It was just this idea that everyone on the team treated everyone with respect. It was all about being a good person.”

Ross responded to Dafforn with appreciation for his gratitude and happiness for him.

Through Ross’ 32 seasons guiding Purdue men’s swimming, the team atmosphere has led to five Purdue men’s swimmers and divers coming out publicly, more than any team in a Power Five Conference. In addition to swimmers Dafforn and Langenfeld, there have been divers Jamie Bissett, Zach Schultz, and Max Showalter.

Showalter, a current sophomore, says he’s not surprised Purdue, despite being in the state where Mike Pence is governor, ranks second all-time with 11 athletes that are publicly out. Showalter says the culture of acceptance extends beyond the swimming and diving team to the entire athletics department. Both of his athletics advisors have rainbow flags in their offices, and one athletics office has a poster of Dafforn with a rainbow flag.

“We have a super, super accepting support staff and athletic family,” Showalter said.

The acceptance is not new. Langenfeld felt it when he arrived at Purdue in 2007 after beginning his career at West Virginia University. When he arrived, Bryant, White, and Schultz were current athletes and provided a network of LGBT athletes.

“One thing that helps a lot is once one person comes out and you see that he’s accepted, or she, and then another person does, it really builds an environment,” Langenfeld said.

When Langenfeld came out publicly in July 2008 before his senior year, he was one of two publicly out LGBT athletes at what are now the Power Five Conference schools, along with Missouri diver Greg DeStephen.

Currently, there are 10 publicly out athletes at Power Five Conference schools, a five-fold growth in eight years.

“We know LGBT athletes are everywhere in every sport,” Dafforn said. “The low amount of [publicly out athletes] speaks to the amount of work that there’s still to do. … It’s just working to create an environment that allows them to be out publicly and be out in all aspects of their life.

“We’ve definitely come a long way, but there is still work to be done.”

Erik Hall is a member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. You can reach him on Twitter @HallErik, Facebook, or by email — hallerik7@gmail.com

LGBT Athletes from the Power Five Conferences

ACC

*No athletes have come out from Syracuse or Virginia Tech

Boston College (2): Jose Estevez (M. XC/Track, 2011-12); Lee-J Mirasolo (W. Hockey, 2004-08).

Clemson (1): Beatriz Gigi Fernandez (W. Tennis, 1982-83)

Duke (4): Keturah Jackson (W. Bkb, 2005-10); Lauren “Liam” Miranda (W. Rowing, 2012-16); EJ Proctor (W. Soccer, 2014-Present); Michele Van Gorp (W. Bkb, 1997-99)

Florida State (1): Jane Geddes (W. Golf, 1979-82)

Georgia Tech (1): Roy Simmons (Football, 1975-78)

Louisville (2): Angel McCoughtry (W. Bkb, 2005-09); Kyle Covert (M. XC, 2013-present)

Miami (2): Greg Louganis (M. Diver, 1978-80); Tanner Wilfong (M. Diver, 2012-16)

North Carolina (5): Ashley Dai (W. Tennis, 2012-16); Stephen Bickford (M. Soccer, 2005-06);

Tom Luchsinger (M. Swim, 2009-12); Warren Perry (M. Swim, 1999-2001); David Testo (M. Soccer, 2001-02)

N.C. State (5): Chris Arcara (M. Diver, 2009-14); Ashley Eli (W. Bkb, 2012-16); Derek Ernst (M. Swim, 2006-09); Hudson Rains (M. Diver, 2009-13); Jimmy Ross (M. Swim, 2008-12).

Notre Dame (3): John Andrade (M. Diver, 2011-13); Matt Dooley (M. Tennis, 2011-14); Michelle Marciniak (W. Bkb, 1991-92).

Pittsburgh (2): Ed Gallagher (Football, 1977-79); Shavonte Zellous (W. Bkb, 2005-09)

Virginia (5): Parker Camp (M. Swim, 2010-14); Angela Hucles (W. Soccer, 1996-99); Sarah Huffman (W. Soccer, 2002-05); Lori Lindsey (W. Soccer, 1998-2001); Sharnee Zoll-Norman (W. Bkb, 2004-08).

Wake Forest (1): Katie Brenny (W. Golf, 1998-2002)

Big Ten

*No athletes have come out from Iowa and Michigan State

Illinois (6): Konrad Eiring (M. Track, 2015-Present); Fred Hartville (M. Gym, 2013-16); Ella Masar (W. Soccer, 2004-07); Randy Lane (M. Gym, 1986-89); Cameron Rogers (M. Gym, 2011-14); Todd Searcy (Football, 1983-86)

Indiana (1): Conor Murphy (M. Diver, 2010-14)

Maryland (2): Akil Patterson (Football, 2001-03); Robbie Rogers (M. Soccer, 2005)

Michigan (7): Jenny Allard (Softball, 1987-90); Ben Baldus-Strauss (M. Gym, 2008-11); Evan Heiter (M. Gym, 2007-11); Kim Phillips (W. Soccer, 1994-95); G. Ryan (W. Swim, 2014-Present); David Sweeney (M. Track, 2008-11); Jamie Thompson (M. Gym, 2006-09)

Minnesota (3): Luke McAvoy (Football, 2011-14); Janel McCarville (W. Bkb, 2001-05); Zach Puchtel (M. Bkb, 2004-06)

Nebraska (4): Jason Burch (Baseball, 2001-03); Kelly Erisman (Softball, 1981-82); Eric Leushen (Football, 2003-05); Charlie Rogers (W. Bkb, 1997-2000).

Northwestern (6): John Andrade (M. Diver, 2013-15); Walter Currie (Football, 1979-81); Tara Gordon (W. Field Hockey, 2012-14); Kayleen McMonigal (W. Cross Country, 2011-12); Kasha Roseta (W. Soccer, 1996-2000); Jack Thorne (M. Swim, 2015-Present)

Ohio State (5): Derrick Anderson (M. Track, 2012-14); Patrick Jeffrey (M. Diver, 1985-88); Rosie Jones (W. Golf, 1978-81); David Pichler (M. Diver, 1989-92); Mike Pucillo (Wrestling, 2005-10)

Penn State (5): John Amaechi (M. Bkb, 1991-95); Joanna Lohman (W. Soccer, 2000-03); Antonio Logan-El (Football, 2006); Colleen O’Hara (W. Lacrosse, 2000-03); Diane Whipple (W. Lacrosse, 1987-90)

Purdue (11): Jamie Bissett (M. Diver, 2011-15); Jenny Bradfisch (W. Soccer, 2005-09); Beth (Millard) Brooke-Marciniak (W. Bkb, 1978-80); Dorien Bryant (Football, 2004-07); Ryan Dafforn (M. Swim, 2007-11); Bree Horrocks (W. Bkb, 2014-Present); Andrew Langenfeld (M. Swim, 2007-09); Zach Schultz (M. Diver, 2004-08); Max Showalter (M. Diver, 2015-Present); Michele Van Gorp (W. Bkb, 1994-96); Stephanie White (W. Bkb, 1995-99)

Rutgers (3): Andrew Germek (M. Rowing, 2006-07); Sean Smith (M. Swim, 2002-05); Sue Wicks (W. Bkb, 1984-88)

Wisconsin (2): Ilana Friedman (W. Hockey, 2011-14); Brad Thorson (Football, 2006-07)

Big 12

*No athletes have come out from Kansas State, Oklahoma State

Baylor (2): Brittney Griner (W. Bkb, 2009-13); Emily Niemann-Nkosi (W. Bkb, 2003-05)

Iowa State (1): Tina Hillman (W. Track, 2011-16)

Kansas (2): Jessica Smith (W. Soccer, 2002-05); Brad Thorson (Football, 2008-10)

Oklahoma (1): Tanner Williams (M. Track, 2013-16)

Texas (2): Jeff Commings (M. Swim, 1991-95); Matt Korman (M. Swim, 2012-15)

Texas Christian (3): Matt Korman (M. Swim, 2011-12); Vincent Pryor (Football, 1991-94); Cooper Robinson (M. Swim, 2011-15)

Texas Tech (1): Sheryl Swoopes (W. Bkb, 1991-93)

West Virginia (2): Andrew Langenfeld (M. Swim, 2005-07); Alex Obendorf (M. Diver, 2014-Present)

Pac-12

*No athletes have come out from Washington State

*Cal Poly is a member of the Pac-12 for wrestling only

Arizona (5): Carter Craft (M. Diver, 2011-15); Jon Denton-Schneider (M. Swim, 2010-14); Lauren Neidigh (W. Swim, 2013-15); Sean Smith (M. Swim, 2000-02); Layana White (W. Bkb, 2011-13)

Arizona State (3): Chip Sarafin (Football, 2010-14); Jerry Smith (Football, 1963-64); Haley Videckis (W. Bkb, 2012-13)

Cal Berkeley (9): Graham Ackerman (M. Gym, 2002-05); Mark Bingham (M. Rugby, 1991-93); Layshia Clarendon (W. Bkb, 2009-13); Victoria Galindo (Softball, 2003-05); Heather Hargreaves (W. Rowing, 2010-13); Helen Jacobs (W. Tennis, 1926-29); Becca Lindquist (W. Rowing, 2011-12); Mikayla Lyles (W. Bkb, 2010-14); Hubert Stowitts (M. Track, 1912-15)

Cal Poly (1): Alec Donovan (Wrestling, 2015-16)

Colorado (3): Kate Fagan (W. Bkb, 1999-2004); Jaron Thomas (M. Track, 2014-Present); Kenzie Tillitt (W. Soccer, 2013-Present)

Oregon (2): James Getzlaff (M. Track, 1991-92); Peg Rees (VB, W. Bkb, SB, 1973-77)

Oregon State (2): Esera Tuaolo (Football, 1987-90); Bojanna “Boky” Vidic (W. Bkb, 1993-96)

Southern California (3): Mark Chatfield (M. Swim, 1971-75); Portia Mitchell (W. Bkb, 2000-02); Sean Mulroy (M. Swim, 2010-14)

Stanford (19): Jennifer Azzi (W. Bkb, 1986-90); Jason Collins (M. Bkb, 1997-2001); Josh Dixon (M. Gym, 2008-11); Kwame Harris (Football, 2000-02); Noah Garcia (M. Diver, 2010-14); Brian Jacobson (M. Swim, 1991-95); Toni Kokenis (W. Bkb, 2010-13); Alex Kostich (M. Swim, 1988-92); Lauren Lappin (Softball, 2002-06); Brian Marshall (M. Track, 1985-88); Bryan McColgan (M. Gym, 2002-03); Mariah Burton Nelson (W. Bkb, 1974-78); Cale Robinson (M. Gym, 2011-14); Dwight Slater (Football, 1998); Kate Starbird (W. Bkb, 1993-97); Xanthe Travlos (W. Field Hockey, 2007-10); Dan Trupin (M. Swim, 2001-05); Guillermo Vargas (M. Track, 2002); Laura Wadden (W. Swim, 2005-09)

UCLA (7): Mari Burningham (W. volleyball & bkb, 1995-96); Brandon Del Campo (M. Track, 1995-98); Dora Dome (W. Bkb, 1985-88); Brian Paul Fell (M. Track, 1996-99); Bruce Hayes (M. Swim, 1981-85); Stephany LaRosa (Softball, 2012-15); Jazmine Sosa (Softball, 2013-16)

Utah (1): Ryan Quinn (M. Skiing, 2000-03)

Washington (1): Dave Kopay (Football, 1961-63)

SEC

*No athletes have come out from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi State,

Arkansas (1): Bobby Blair (M. Tennis, 1983-86)

Florida (4): Lauren Neidigh (W. Swim, 2011-13); Lisa Raymond (W. Tennis, 1992-93); Abby Wambach (W. Soccer, 1998-2001); Andrea Zimbardi (Softball, 1999-2003)

LSU (2): Seimone Augustus (W. Bkb, 2002-06); Pokey Chatman (W. Bkb, 1987-91)

Mississippi (1): Alisa Scott (W. Bkb, 1984-87)

Missouri (6): Vito Cammisano (M. Swim, 2009-12); Greg DeStephen (M. Diver, 2006-10); Blair Hardiek (W. Bkb, 2003-07); Bruce Hobson (M. Swim, Indiscernible); Derrick Peterson (M. Track, 1997-2000); Michael Sam (Football, 2009-13)

South Carolina (2): Tina Buck (W. Bkb, 1981-82); David Testo (M. Soccer, 1999-2000)

Tennessee (5): Chandler Frumin (W. Rowing, 2014-Present); Chamique Holdsclaw (W. Bkb, 1995-99); Glory Johnson (W. Bkb, 2008-12); Michelle Marciniak (W. Bkb, 1992-96); Jackie Walker (Football, 1968-71)

Texas A&M (2): Amini Fonua (M. Swim, 2008-12); Stacy Sykora (Volleyball/Women’s Bkb/Track, 1995-98)

Vanderbilt (2): John Amaechi (M. Bkb, 1990-91); Garrett Snoeyenbos (Football, 2007)

(Glory Johnson, Derrick Peterson, Zach Puchtel, and Sheryl Swoopes previously identified as LGBT, but their current sexual identity is unclear.)