After I came out as a bisexual to my college football team in May, my biggest worry was with our locker room. I wasn’t sure if the guys would want me in there anymore.
Then my quarterback, Joey Garbarino, whom I have played with since the fourth grade, stepped up. He has been with me from the start of my career and every step along the way. We’ve even won a state championship together. I’ve always been protecting him on the line of scrimmage and I can now see he has my back off the field.
He was asked by someone if they thought it would be weird to be in the showers with me now that I came out. He quickly dismissed the question and asked why it would be weird. He said we’re like brothers and should treat each other that way. His words and support really made me feel better.
As a kid, you get in your head what a football player is supposed to be like. Anything that deviates from the perceived norm wouldn’t seem to be accepted. I tried so hard while I was young to stay within what was considered normal. It wasn’t until late into college that I realized that there is no such thing as the norm. Everyone has their own differences. For me, my biggest difference was being bisexual.
I felt that 2018 was going to be a new year for me and that it was finally time to be who I wanted to be. On May 2, I sent this tweet:
“As little as I think this means I feel like it will relieve a lot of my stress. I have spent years trying to say this, but now I think I am ready to. I, Jacob Van Ittersum, am bisexual.”
I got little immediate reaction from the tweet, but thought nothing of it. I was just happy that it was out there and people could know if they wanted to. The next week really changed my life.
I had many of my friends and Northwood University teammates come up to me and say that they were proud of me and supported me. I was so happy to see the people I thought would be resistant to that part of me be so accepting. I’m sure there are others who may still not know or don’t accept it, but I have not heard any bad comments.
My coaches had to find out as well. After a workout session, I saw my head coach, Leonard Haynes, in the hallway. We greeted each other and he said he wanted to see me in his office. All I could think was “Oh, boy. Here we go.”
“Is it true?” he asked. I knew what he was talking about and I ecstatically say yes. This still brought a look of surprise on his face. He thought that someone had logged onto my Twitter account and sent that tweet as a joke.
I thought it was too heartfelt of a tweet to be seen as a joke, but I reassured him that it was no joke. He told me he was happy for me and that if I had any problems that I could come to him and we would work it out. I’m lucky to be a part of such a supporting team.
As I enter my senior season as a starting offensive lineman, a huge weight is lifted off of my shoulders. I can finally be myself without fear of ridicule. Any worries about the locker room were ended by my quarterback’s support.
By being an openly bisexual athlete, I want to help break the barrier for other athletes with a different sexual orientation. It shouldn’t be a big thing. We should let people be who they want to be.
From my personal experience, hiding that part of me was really hurtful. It felt like I wasn’t being real and was putting on a mask.
People should be allowed to be open with themselves without the thought of ridicule or harassment. Football is an especially hard sport to do so, but times are changing for the better.
Jacob Van Ittersum, 20, is a senior at Division II Northwood University in Michigan where is a member of the Timberwolves football team. He earned honorable mention in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference 2016 as well as making the All-Academic Excellence team in 2016 and 2017. He is majoring in Operations and Supply Chain Management. He is a native of Eastpointe, Michigan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter or Instagram.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski