Jeff Rueter never wants to put himself in the center of the story. But coming out is the antithesis of that.
That was one of several reasons why Rueter never publicly disclosed his sexual orientation during the early years of his professional sportswriting career.
But Rueter broke his silence last month, publicly coming out as bisexual on Bi+ Visibility Day. In a Twitter post, Rueter, who covers professional soccer for The Athletic, announced to the world he is bisexual.
On this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki,” Rueter shared with me why he decided to make the big announcement. As a staff-writer at a highly regarded publication with more than 1 million subscribers, he is professionally stable. The Athletic also employs an extensive number of LGBTQ journalists and allies, who run their own Slack channel appropriately called, “The Agenda.”
In other words, Reuter no longer had any reasons to keep his sexuality private. It simply felt like the right time.
“I didn’t feel like there was a reason not to anymore,” he said. “It feels good. There’s a liberation of sorts I never expected to have, or that didn’t know I was missing in my life that I’ve felt since that day.”
Rueter says he’s been out to immediate family members and friends since 2012, often slipping in mentions of his LGBTQ identity when giving orientation speeches to incoming freshmen at his alma mater, Hamlin University in St. Paul, Minn.
But he never saw a reason to publicly reveal his sexual identity, because it didn’t come up in his work as a freelance sportswriter. He was also single, and didn’t want to be ostracized.
“I was single, so there was that classic stigma around bisexual men that I just didn’t want to get caught up in publicly at the time,” he said.
But then Rueter met his now-wife, who’s also bisexual, and was more publicly out. While Rueter remains uncomfortable with talking about himself — in our conversation, he remarked that “nobody cares about the personal life as a sportswriter” — he says he understands the power of visibility. There is a dearth of publicly out bisexual people out there.
“One thing I would test people with is, ‘name a bisexual man and don’t say Frank Ocean,’” Rueter said. “The amount of people who would just freeze up and say, ‘I can’t name a second living bisexual person,’ was pretty eye-opening to me.
“I did this partially — I guess to give them shit or whatever — but I think there was a part of it, too, where I just wanted to know, how visible are we? How many people can you just readily throw out and say, ‘This person, this person, and this person?’ I wasn’t getting a lot of that, so part of this for me, too, was, let’s just give sports fans another person who they can point at.”
In a twist of journalistic fate, Rueter was immediately presented with an opportunity to blend his newfound personal identity as a publicly out bisexual man with his professional identity as a professional soccer writer.
Last Wednesday, a player on the Phoenix Rising of the USL Championship league allegedly called out San Diego Loyal player Collin Martin a gay slur in Jamaican. The insult prompted San Diego to forfeit the game, standing in solidarity with Martin, who’s the only active openly gay athlete in major U.S. professional team sports.
When Rueter became aware of the incident, he immediately flipped over to the game, and got to work. He posted the complete interaction between Loyal manager Landon Donovan and Rising manager Rick Schantz, in which Schantz appeared to dismiss the accusation against his player.
Rueter stayed up until the wee hours of the morning working on the story story in collaboration with Meg Linehan, another openly LGBTQ staff-writer. The comprehensive breakdown is thorough and comes from an obvious area of expertise.
It’s apparent the writers were deeply invested in the story.
“I was really angry Wednesday night,” Rueter said. “My hands were shaking until probably about 2:30 a.m., it took me to the point where I could at least go in bed, and not just be out in the living room staring at a wall.”
In journalism school, aspiring scribes are taught it is sacrilegious to be personally invested in the outcome of a story. But frankly, that is wrong.
As a publicly out LGBTQ person, Rueter’s coverage of the Martin story carries more weight.
“The fact that I had come out exactly a week prior, and people were aware this story would be handled by two queer writers, that might have made it, I wonder if it made the story a little more impactful,” Rueter said.
Rueter has covered LGBTQ issues in the past. He actually came out to Martin after interviewing him for a story about his coming out, because Martin complimented his grasp of the story.
Rueter blurted out he’s part of the community, too.
“I would never want to spin the experience of a soccer player being called a homophobic slur on the field into a ‘Jeff Rueter story,’” he said. “But I think it’s just being able to talk about it, and not second-guess myself of whether I’m going hard enough or holding back.”
More than anything, Rueter wants his public coming out to increase bi+ visibility in the sports world. He’s ready to be in the middle of this story.
“I had a ton of friends in college and post-college who identify as bisexual,” Rueter said. “It’s not like we’re not there. ... I want to just normalize it within my small little niche community of American soccer fans.”
Click here to check out this week’s edition of “The Sports Kiki” podcast. You can also subscribe to the show on Apple’s Podcast page as well as on Google Podcasts, and wherever you’ll find Outsports podcasts.