Kennedy McDowell, a gay defensive end for the Colorado State Rams, was part of an article in The Athletic shortly before Colorado State butted heads with intra-state rival Colorado Buffaloes and head coach Deion Sanders a couple weeks ago.

Since then, he’s heard from many gay and bisexual athletes across sports who have found his story of acceptance at CSU inspiring.

“To know that I’m not alone, that I have support, has been really reassuring,” he told Outsports via phone this week.

The publication of The Athletic article — the first national piece profiling McDowell as an elite gay football player — was a bit nerve-wracking for the athlete, as he didn’t know what to expect from a football fanbase that extended past his local high school Frisco, Texas, community that knew he was gay.

What he’s found from teammates and coaches before the article, as well as fans since, has been almost nothing but love and support.

Still, the tiny handful of negative or neutral comments linger.

“There was this one Twitter post that had said I came out intentionally before the game against Colorado, as if [Colorado coach] Deion [Sanders] made me come out,” McDowell said. “My mom went off on the dude and said, ‘You need to read the article.’ And people were like, ‘Yeah Deion just made him come out, he’s just like that.’

“That isn’t what happened.”

To be clear, McDowell was publicly out well before the double-overtime Colorado game, with an article in a local Frisco publication last year, as well as McDowell being very out on social media.

Sanders had absolutely zero to do with the article in The Athletic or McDowell further sharing that he’s gay.

Over the years, McDowell has had to deal with opponents — fans or players — trying to get inside his head about his sexuality.

McDowell isn’t a stranger to opponents trying to somehow take advantage of his sexual orientation, offering not-so-subtle slurs and comments before the snap.

Though, as a college football player, he said that has changed.

“I’ve been called a faggot more times than I could count, in every high school football game I played. In college? There’s not even time to talk shit. I’m out there huffing and puffing.”

He’s not concerned about it. He’s heard every name in the book and he’s still grinding.

And when someone uses gay slurs to attack him, he has a tactic that goes right at their psyche.

“All I have to do is flirt with the guy in front of me and make him uncomfortable and that’s that,” he said. “‘Hey you’re cute, can I get your number after the game?’”

McDowell said that his response to slurs in high school made anyone spewing homophobic comments shut up.

Still, those Texas high school slurs certainly made him wonder how a broader football audience — who didn’t know him as the best high school player in his city — might react to a story about him being gay.

Those questions have been answered.

“I definitely didn’t expect so much love out of that article,” McDowell said, reflecting what Outsports has heard from countless gay athletes whose public profiles become more broad. “I’m really grateful for that. I just want to inspire athletes around the country. My goal is to be an inspiration.”

Some of that “love” has been the joking response from his teammates. While “gay jokes” may be regarded by some as “homophobic,” McDowell and other gay athletes view their teammates cracking comments about being gay as a sort of indoctrination.

If you can accept off-color cracks about who you are, you’re part of the team.

“It’s all love,” McDowell said. “We’re always going to roast each other and talk crap with each other. And I honestly expect my teammates to not hold back. It should be a regular environment in my opinion. I can take it, I’m not going to go crying to my mom.”

Upcoming for the Rams are Utah Tech, and then an early Mountain West Conference schedule that features Utah State, Boise State and UNLV. Their 2024 conference schedule does not include ranked Fresno State.

McDowell is here for all of it, a slightly undersized freshman — he said he needs to gain 10 to 20 pounds — ready to impress the rest of the football world.

“Everybody at the college level is playing there for a reason,” McDowell said, hinting at NFL aspirations. “We’re all good football players. And I feel like there’s a mutual respect.”

You can follow Kennedy McDowell on Instagram and on X.