My-King Johnson, a highly recruited defensive lineman from Tempe, Ariz., who has committed to play for the University of Arizona this fall, has come out publicly as gay in a newspaper interview. When he enrolls at the school in Tuscon, he will be the first openly gay scholarship athlete at an FBS school.
In a profile in the Arizona Daily Star, written by Zack Rosenblatt, Johnson, who played his high school career at Tempe High School, said he has been open with family and friends about being gay since he was 12. He has found love and support ever since.
"I’m a very honest person," Johnson told Rosenblatt. "I just don’t see how I could be living an honest, truthful life and have that in the background.”
Rosenblatt also interviewed teammates and coaches who were all supportive, one teammate saying it actually made him respect Johnson more.
At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Johnson had a stellar senior season, recording 21.5 sacks and three forced fumbles last year en route to being named to the All-Arizona football team. He had 89 tackles last season, 19 of which were for losses.
His 2016 performance was highly regarded across the nation. Scout.com rated Johnson the No. 52 defensive end in all of high school last season; 247Sports had him ranked No. 53. Johnson said he has a 3.8 GPA — he’s smart in addition to being an elite-level athlete.
Johnson had been recruited by various Div. I schools, getting offers from 11 of them including Oregon, Texas A&M and USC. He had actually given a “soft verbal” commitment to attend UCLA, but in mid-January he reversed that and signed with Arizona. He’s one of only two new defensive ends joining the Wildcats next season.
According to the Arizona Daily Star, his being gay was a complete non-issue for the Arizona coaching staff. From Rosenblatt:
When Johnson told UA assistant Vince Amey about his sexuality while being recruited, the coach's reaction — "We want you to be a Wildcat" — was exactly what he wanted to hear.
Johnson has been living his life openly as gay for years. However, he has also kept his social-media focus on football and sports. Earlier this month though, Johnson posted on Facebook his disappointment that, as a gay man, he’s not allowed to donate blood.
“So apparently in Az you can't donate blood to charity if you are gay and sexually active. Welp,” he wrote. “Never tried to donate blood until now.”
Rich Rodriguez and his Arizona coaching staff knew Johnson was gay as they recruited him, according to the Arizona Daily Star. His ability to pressure the quarterback meant much more to the Wildcats coaches than his sexual orientation.
"They were the first Power 5 school to talk to me,” Johnson told the Arizona Republic. “I just felt they showed they really wanted me."
Only a handful of college football players before Johnson have come out publicly while still playing. Chip Sarafin was a walk-on at Arizona State Univ. who never got to play a down. Mason Darrow was a long-time starter at Princeton; He just finished up his college career last season. Other players from NCAA Div. II and III and NAIA — including Conner Mertens, Mitch Eby, Kyle Kurdziolek and Darrion McAlister — have all leant their voices in recent years.
Yet Johnson is a unique class, a highly recruited football player going to a major Power-Five Conference school on scholarship. Michael Sam was openly gay to his University of Missouri teammates and famously came out publicly in 2014 shortly after his college career was over and before he entered the NFL Draft.
Interestingly it’s been the defensive end position that has yielded the most publicly out football players: Eby, Sam, former NFL player Esera Tuaolo and now Johnson.
For years, people have wondered when we would get to the point where big-time college and professional athletes wouldn’t come out as much as they would have already been out as they rose up the ranks. It seems like Johnson fits that mold.
For more on the Arizona Wildcats, visit Arizona Desert Swarm.