Being Out is a new feature that looks at LGBTQ people in sports who have come out since Outsports first published in 1999. Today: Football player Christian Mays
Christian Mays loves a challenge.
Never a natural athlete, Mays challenged himself by trying out and making his high school football team, but bullying and taunting by some teammates soured him and he felt robbed of the chance to prove himself in a supporting environment.
Mays, a bisexual, then did something even more challenging — try out for the University of Michigan football team as a walk-on student. In a 2015 article for Outsports, Mays recounts the lessons he learned.
Once February 2013 came, I found myself at Schembechler Hall again. Before we began the drills, I took a moment to recall what brought me here: all the hurt, all of the ambition, and all of those naysayers. I used all of the negativity I experienced and turned it into something positive. No matter what direction this went, I already silenced those who wanted to silence me. I was by chasing my dreams. I left everything I learned and trained for on the field that day. I never felt such relief.
Although I found out that I still didn’t make the cut, I came to peace with what happened. I accomplished what I had really always set out to do: find acceptance within myself. I realized that I overcame many obstacles, evolved from a “scrawny nerd” in high school to a serious candidate for college football.
I didn’t need to be a college athlete, I just needed to embrace myself.
After graduation, Mays carried that grit and determination to the U.S. Army Reserve, where he is now a first lieutenant. His goal is to make captain and be called up to active duty as a military attorney. He is studying for his LSAT to make this dream come true.
Here are Mays’ answers to our Being Out questions.
What do you love the most about football?
What I love about football is that it brings an element of teamwork. No one player can carry an entire team on their back, so you learn to put your pride aside and use your talents to help contribute to the team’s success.
The brotherhood that you build in a very competitive sport like football is something that you cannot replicate anywhere else except when I found myself in the military. I could have joined any other sport in high school, but I wanted to choose a sport that I knew was going to be difficult for me and make me mentally stronger.
No one expected me to choose a sport like football, but I loved the challenge of it. I wasn’t a starter, a heartthrob or a natural athlete, but I learned more about myself than I would have learned anywhere else. In a way, football helped me develop the thick skin to embrace who I am no matter what people said.
What does it personally mean to you to be LGBTQ+ in sports?
It didn’t feel much different. While I was never out in high school, it did help put into perspective what was important in life.
While homophobic comments were thrown from time to time, I adapted to thinking that it just came with the territory. I now realize at 27 that this kind of culture is problematic and why LGBTQ athletes have a difficulty between choosing to be open about their sexual orientation or remaining in the closet as a professional athlete.
Sports was one of the places where I started to gain respect from people for the courage that I had to do something that many thought that I didn’t have the nerve or physical strength to do.
When I tried my best to be a team player and bring my best, that was all that mattered to myself, the coaches, and my teammates. Football was a way for me to take my mind off complex questions that I had about my sexuality and focus on my performance rather than worry constantly of who suspected me of my sexuality.
What advice would you give to LGBTQ+ kids in athletics or who want to participate in athletics, the kind of advice the younger you wish you had heard?
Be yourself and love yourself. In the decade or so since I was active in sports, there has been so much change in LGBTQ rights and number of firsts in the athletic world.
I went to a private Christian church for my middle and high school years and lived in a conservative household, so coming out or even embracing myself in the slightest would have guaranteed myself a one-way ticket to gay “conversion therapy” at a young age. I was very terrified of people even suspecting that I wasn’t 100% straight or had liberal opinions on sexuality or marriage equality.
I would give anything to be a high school or college athlete in today’s world where for the most part there are more resources and a more tolerant circle of friends. Are there still issues that the athletic world needs to address? Absolutely, especially for our trans brothers and sisters. But in 2019, we have already broken so many barriers that I’m more optimistic about the future of LGBTQ sports compared to a decade ago.
I strongly believe that the more honest you are with yourself and your team, your performance in sports will be 110% better because it’s a massive boulder off your shoulders. Of course, you should always do this when you are ready to. There’s never a time too late to be honest with yourself.
Who is someone that inspires you?
Michael Sam. I have been blessed with being a “double-minority”— African American and LGBT. During my adolescent years, whenever I was looking for LGBT icons, I saw a community that seemed mostly centered around white, masculine men. Feeling discouraged, I felt that I would have to eventually choose between one community over another or even be ostracized by both because I didn’t quite fit in the stereotypical boxes of either.
When Michael came out in 2014, I was a junior in college and that was huge for me. Not only the fact that this was the first out NFL drafted player, but the fact that he belonged to the black community was especially encouraging to me.
Since I went to a fairly progressive university, I didn’t lean too heavily into the narrative that African Americans were more homophobic than whites. Seeing Michael show that you don’t have to choose between two equally loving and unique communities gave me a lot of hope for a bright future ahead of me even outside of sports.
In addition, how he carried himself during the draft amazed me. He showed through his actions that while a part of his personal life is now public knowledge, it wasn’t the only thing that made him unique. He was a serious athlete with the numbers and awards in the SEC to back it up. He’s laid the foundation for another LGBTQ star athlete to come out and continue where he left off.
Michael’s coming out was the final tipping point for me to come out in 2015. To this day, I still have his NFL fan jersey from the St. Louis Rams hanging in my room. I’d love to meet him one day and show my gratitude.
What are you passionate/excited about right now?
I’m just starting to get active in the LGBTQ Flag Football League in Denver and hopefully it’s a hobby that I’ll keep in my schedule.
Over the last year, I’ve been investing myself in building a career in another challenging area: the United States Army. Right now, I’m a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve, and I’ve found that once again the call for something challenging has beckoned me and I feel that I can do my best serving my country.
In the post-DADT military, there are many gays and lesbians who are active in the military and continue to serve with pride. I’m also studying for the LSAT in hopes of becoming a JAG Attorney (military attorney) for the Army.
I’m very optimistic about the next few years and feel that I have chosen a career that will enrich me in more ways that I can imagine. Yet even in my joy of serving openly in the military, I’m fully aware that our transgender brothers and sisters are still fighting to be recognized as equals and stand unapologetically in solidarity with them.
What is your most memorable sports moment?
My most memorable sports moment would be going to my first Michigan-Ohio State football game in 2011. It is one of the most impassioned rivalries in the country. Michigan over the last several years was hardly favored to beat Ohio State, and with the big game being held in Ann Arbor, many people didn’t want to be out in the November cold to see what was assumed to be a wipeout game. So my roommates and I managed to get nose-bleed seats in the student section from friends for dirt cheap.
What happened at that game was miraculous! We beat the odds and upset Ohio State on our own turf. Michigan students were so fired up over the victory, that we rushed the football field to celebrate with the players, including me.
It’s one of those few events that you could do something like that. It was also the last football game as of today where Michigan beat Ohio State in college football. Hopefully this season, we’ll do better!
Christian Mays, 27, is a native of Detroit and was very active in sports and politics growing up. He studied Political Science at the University of Michigan (Class of 2014) and attempted to walk on to Michigan Football. At Michigan, he was elected to Central Student Government in 2013-14, the only African American elected. He is active in the United States Army Reserve as a first lieutenant since 2017. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Instagram.
If you are out in sports in any capacity as openly LGBTQ and want to be featured in Being Out, drop Jim Buzinski an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).