By the time Bradley Kim came out to the world last week, he knew he and his team were ready for it. The Air Force football player had talked to many college athletes, including some in football, and heard nothing but positive stories about their teammates supporting them.
Yet a belief still exists, like the mythology of a bygone era, that gay athletes coming out to their teams, especially in football, will be roundly rejected. This defies the actual real-world experiences of Arizona’s My-King Johnson, Kansas State’s Scott Frantz, Butler’s Xavier Colvin, Indiana State’s Jake Bain, Willamette’s Conner Mertens, Chapman’s Mitch Eby, and many others across the sport.
I was at a dinner party recently talking about the widespread acceptance of gay athletes in high school and college sports with several gay men, none of them in sports. With every story of acceptance I shared, and every statistic I offered that showed an embrace by straight athletes, these men twisted themselves to explain that somehow every story and stat was faulty, and that football players in fact reject their gay teammates.
These are all amazing guys, each one successful in their profession. Yet they have been told for so many years that sports — and in particular hard-hitting sports like football — are no place for gay men that they just haven’t yet let go of that idea.
It was a powerful demonstration of the biggest problem gay athletes face coming out in sports: If our own community flat-out refuses to accept that sports have changed and that gay athletes are widely accepted, how can we possibly inspire young athletes to be their true selves?
Answer: The LGBTQ athletes themselves.
Athletes like Kim, who wade through all of the fear-mongering put out there by the media, advocacy organizations and others who have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, are doing the work all of us should be doing to free other young athletes from fear. As we say at Outsports, “Courage is contagious.”
And what a powerful statement Kim’s story has made. His story of love and acceptance cuts at the core of various cross-sections of fear that continue to pervade far too many conversations about the true acceptance of gay athletes.
Kim’s teammates have been effusive with their support
The other guys on the football team could have easily just nodded and gone about their business. Instead, several of them have expressed incredibly strong support for Kim. He told Outsports that when he came out to his fellow defensive backs on Friday they stood and applauded.
Many of the players haven’t just shared their support privately, they have taken to social media to show their love for their teammate. This isn’t just acceptance, it’s overwhelming support.
So Proud if my Teammate and Brother for doing this. I can’t imagine the amount of courage it took for him to open up about this. Much Respect! https://t.co/kusI6kdB12— Demani Hansford (@Demani_Hansford) July 27, 2018
He hasn’t played a down for the team
We’ve long heard this mantra in sports: As long as a football player plays well and contributes to the win column, he can be gay, bi, queer or green and be accepted by his teammates and coaches.
Yet Kim hasn’t played a down for Air Force since arriving at the school last year. An injury in basic training forced him to the sideline, and onto the operating table, last year.
The support from his teammates and coaches reflects the truth about the real bonds of sports, that they run a lot deeper than wins. Teammates grow quickly to respect and support one another even beyond their teammate’s play on the field. Kim may end up contributing to the team’s victories, but the support of his teammates and coaches before he ever does that speaks volumes.
He remains a devout Christian
Kim struggled with his Christianity as he fought to reconcile what he’d long been taught about Jesus and his feelings of being gay. Yet he has found a way to be both openly gay and Christian. Kim started his coming-out Instagram post with a Bible verse, a prayer symbol and the statement, “God made me this way for a reason.” Kim can have a powerfully positive impact on other youth struggling with their religious beliefs, and the beliefs they have been taught all their lives.
The story got widespread positive national coverage
Many major news organizations picked up the story over the weekend and contributed to the good vibes of this young man’s courageous and impactful coming-out. While Fox News has the reputation in many circles of being anti-LGBTQ, their news story reflected nothing but positivity. Other outlets that had coverage included CBS Sports, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times (via the Associated Press), the Washington Post, and LGBTQ publications like NewNowNext and The Advocate. Heck, even Military.com ran the AP story!
The media routinely covers coming-out stories with a positive bent. That they shared Kim’s story
All of this has happened at a military academy
Just seven years ago, Kim would have been expelled from the Air Force Academy for coming out publicly, under the rules of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Now in 2018, he has been embraced by teammates, coaches, fellow cadets and the academy itself, which issued this statement after he came out:
“The academy strives to foster a culture where everyone gives and receives dignity and respect so that each individual has the opportunity to fulfill their potential.”
Welcome to sports in 2018.