Last autumn, in the middle of the football season, Jaden Vazquez just couldn’t hold back who he was anymore. The sophomore linebacker from Bethlehem, Pa., had known he was bisexual for much of his life. He’d told some people back home, including his family, but more and more he felt he had to tell his football family at Fordham Univ.
After Vazquez came out to a few teammates, as first reported by News 12, they encouraged him to come out to the whole team. He followed their suggestion and, shortly after National Coming Out Day, he posted a video on Instagram of himself literally coming out of a closet:
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As you can see it's not easy for me to come out of the closet but here it is! Im bisexual and im proud of who I am. Thank you to everyone who has ever supported me. I've struggled my entire life with self identity and I have finally found the strength to come out. Hope you enjoy the video
The reaction from his teammates, Vazquez said, has been 100% positive.
“I’ve been pretty surprised to have zero negative reactions,” Vazquez told Outsports in a phone call Sunday afternoon. “A lot of people do get negative reactions when they come out, and that’s one thing I’m very fortunate about. My family is very open and loving and supporting, and my teammates are very open.”
The coaching staff had the same reaction, contacting Vazquez immediately and expressing their complete support.
“I said it’s a very brave thing you did and we’re here to support you in any way, shape or form,” Fordham football head coach Joe Conlin told News 12. “It was no big deal because it’s not a big deal. That’s who he is and we love him.”
Vazquez said the closeness of a football team helps transcend the different backgrounds of its players and coaches, regardless of what they are. He thinks that’s a big reason his teammates have had his back.
“In football we do everything together,” he said. “You build strong bonds with people you struggle with every day through practice. And it creates the bond of family. At that point it doesn’t mater who the guy next to you is — his sexual orientation, his religion — you know the guy next to you has your back.”
Last season Vazquez played in all 12 games for the Rams, starting three and recording 10 total tackles.
Vazquez isn’t sure if he’ll be playing football this school year — The Patriot League has postponed play until the spring, but there’s no guarantee that a season will happen. So he’s spending some of his suddenly free time helping to build a student-athlete support network on campus, called Fordham Connect, which aims to “erase the stigma around vulnerability and mental health in sport.”
Vazquez leads the LGBTQ+ subgroup, and there are subgroups to tackle other topics. Other Connect student-athlete leaders include soccer players Maggie Grossman and Jenna Devine, and track and field runner and jumper Jade Dyer-Kennedy
“We’re trying to have a safe space to talk about those things,” Vazquez said. “We know these are topics that are not really brought up in sports, because there’s this idea that you just play a sport. But the athletes are more than just athletes.”
Since his story became public, Vazquez has already heard from many LGBTQ athletes at Fordham, as well as other people who say he’s given them the strength to come out to their families. Vazquez thinks he’ll continue to hear more and more stories of acceptance, while also being ready to support people when their coming-out stories don’t immediately end as well as his has.
“In this day and age, so many people are understanding that this is something that people are, it’s not that it’s a phase, or that it’s not right. People understand that people are gay, people are bi, people are straight, and people are more open to understanding that now.”
If you’re an LGBTQ person in high school or college sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and athletes in pro and Olympic sports.