There’s no controversy this year: the four best teams are in the College Football Playoffs. Undefeated Georgia and Michigan were shoo-ins for the tournament, along with Ohio State and TCU, the only two one-loss teams in FBS.
It promises to be an epic playoff, and could lead to a Big Ten conference rematch between Ohio State and Michigan for the national championship, just weeks after the Wolverines stomped out the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor.
But the playoffs get even better, at least from our vantage point. In addition to football excellence, every team enjoys strong ties to Outsports and LGBTQ athletes.
A rundown of each program’s LGBTQ history is below, complete with stories of inspiration, and even a legendary head coach’s bond with his gay son.
Let’s start with Michigan, who enter as a nearly double-digit favorite against TCU, and could be the pick to win it all. Their head coach, Jim Harbaugh, hails from an iconic football family and boasts a .721 winning percentage at the college level. Previously, Harbaugh coached the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl, and finished his NFL head coaching run with a .688 winning percentage.
He’s also a great dad to his gay son.
James Harbaugh Jr. attended Michigan during his dad’s coaching tenure, and earned his BFA in directing. While father and son share a love for football, Harbaugh Jr. credits his old man with igniting his passion for musical theater.
“I can kind of credit my dad for getting me into theater a little bit, oddly enough,” Harbaugh Jr. told Outsports in a previous interview. “In 2005, when he was at Stanford, he took the family — my sister, stepmom and I — we went and saw ‘Wicked’ in San Francisco. I was blown away by it. I was probably 12 at the time. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is so incredible. I would love to be a part of something that makes people feel this way, something that feels so magical and amazing.’”
As one of the most high-profile figures in football, Jim Harbaugh’s loves for his son goes a long way towards combating homophobia in the sport. Michigan has done its part, too. Last year, the school’s marching band performed an LGBTQ-themed halftime show at The Big House.
Lady Gaga and football is a championship-level combination, after all.
Outsports has a 23-year history of publishing the inspiring coming-out stories of athletes and sports figures around the world.
Former Georgia goalie Joey Fisher was one of the first college athletes to share his story with us. He publicly came out in 2007, and said his teammates were universally accepting, despite his fears.
“Everyone was really good about it,” he said. “I was really surprised. I kind of expected to have at least one negative reaction. But, for everyone it seemed to either be a non-issue or they were just like, ‘Hey, it’s really cool you’re still here doing this.’”
Fisher’s story highlights the importance of straight allies when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion in sports. Former Bulldog sand current NFL wideout Chris Conley embodies what allyship means.
As a junior, Conley, who now plays for the Tennessee Titans, spoke out in support of gay athletes while many of his peers stayed silent. Conley also attended an LGBTQ sports conference when he was in college.
As some Christian universities continue to discriminate against LGBTQ students, TCU stands out as an example of inclusion right in the middle of Texas.
The Horned Frogs have a laudable history of supporting LGBTQ people on campus.
Years ago, gay then-TCU assistant athletic director Drew Martin found acceptance and love in the athletic department, even while he couldn’t marry his partner in Texas. Martin is currently with the Texas Longhorns.
Former TCU swimmer Cooper Robinson, who found himself four pills into a suicide attempt shortly after he was outed, credits the support he received from his coaches and teammates for saving his life.
“I ended up telling my coach everything. Soon we were all crying. All of my coaches embraced me with their support and care,” writes Robinson in his coming-out story. “It was like something changed and I didn’t really care what people thought of me anymore. I was able to be more open with myself and the rest of my swim team. Since then I have felt nothing but support from them.”
The Buckeyes’ long-standing athletic excellence extends beyond the playing field. Back in 2013, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith spoke with Outsports about combating homophobia, making him one of the first major college sports figures to grant Outsports an exclusive interview.
Just as impressively, former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel said he would embrace an out gay player on his team back in 2010. We believe he was the first major FBS coach to conduct an interview with an LGBTQ publication about gay issues.
“We strive to teach and model appreciation for everyone,” he said at the time. “One, we are a family. If you haven’t learned from your family at home that people have differences and those strengthen the whole, then you are hopefully going to learn it as part of the Ohio State football family.”
Today, Ohio State remains a welcoming place for LGBTQ athletes. Over the last five years alone, an out gymnast was picked by his teammates to be a senior captain; gay swimmer Nathan Holty wrote about finding his safe space in the pool; and two out gay roommates found a family on Ohio State’s cheer team.
That’s a record worth celebrating, regardless of how the Buckeyes do in the playoffs.