Football has always been our most macho of male team sports and the one historically seen as the one most unfriendly to gay players. But that notion has always been overblown and for the first time we will have three openly gay college football players this fall.
All three came out publicly in the last month:
- Kyle Kurdziolek, a University of St. Francis (Ill.) linebacker who will be a junior this fall.
- Darrion McAlister, a center for Marian (Ind.) University who will be a senior.
- My-King Johnson, who just signed to play defensive end for the University of Arizona starting this fall.
Why is this a big deal? Prior to the past month, only four college players had ever who came out while active — Mason Darrow, Mitch Eby, Conner Mertens, and Chip Sarafin. To have three come out in less than a month is special.
McAlister specifically came out because he wanted to be openly gay in his senior season. He was inspired by Kurdziolek — the two became friends after playing against each other last season— and sent an email to Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star:
My name is Darrion McAlister, and I am a football player for Marian University here in Indianapolis. I was wondering if you would be interested in doing a segment about a gay football player? I'm not openly gay, but I figured this could be my coming out story, and that it could also be something that potentially helps other gay athletes throughout the state of Indiana in hopes of them feeling more comfortable about themselves in their sport.
In the past, most football players — college or pro — waited until after their careers were over before publicly coming out, though some were out to their teams while active.
Johnson is the biggest name since — as soon as he enrolls at Arizona — he will be the first FBS scholarship athlete. Arizona is in the Pac-12, a power conference, and his team will be on TV every week and could, in theory, play for the national championship.
Johnson has been out since he was 12 and Arizona — and presumably the other 10 schools who recruited him — was aware he was gay. His position coach, Vince Amey, said he was excited, telling the Arizona Daily Star: "I can’t wait to be like, ‘Yeah, I got to coach the first openly gay kid to be an All-Pac-12 defensive end.’ "
What’s also great is that all three are starters and all three play very physical positions. Kurdziolek is a linebacker, Johnson a defensive end and McAlister a center. No punters or kickers (not that there’s anything wrong with that), these guys like to hit.
The three also are taking their uniqueness on their teams in stride. "I don’t feel like I’m risking anything," Kurdziolek said. "The life I’m living right now is the dream." When McAlister went to the Indy Star to do his coming out interview, he was accompanied by two teammates, showing the support he has.
Johnson has been out since middle school, with a high school teammate saying, "He doesn’t care because he’s focused on what he’s doing, and he’s focused on himself. Clearly, it shouldn’t affect anyone else, but no matter what, he doesn’t care about that. It doesn’t bother him one bit."
While three openly gay players is terrific, it’s still a low number in comparison to how many college football players are still closeted or only out to a few people. Let’s hope Kurdziolek, McAlister and Johnson inspire others to take the plunge and pay it forward.
If you're a college football player or an LGBT athlete or coach in any sport and want to tell your story, write us: email@example.com.