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The Statesman

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First collegiate athlete comes out: is this a big deal?

Flashback to 1947: Jackie Robinson becomes the first African American player to play in Major League Baseball, breaking the game’s color barrier between its league, and the Negro League which was only for black players. Jackie made this jump to the Brooklyn Dodgers because he felt that it wasn’t fair for the African Americans to be playing in a league that wasn’t level with the best competition in the country at that time.

               Now fast-forward to April 29th, 2013. Jason Collins becomes the first player in the 4 big sports (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL) to come out gay. The former Washington Wizards center and Stanford All-American broke that barrier and now the collegiate barrier has been broken.

               Connor Mertens came out on January 28th of this year, becoming the first college athlete to come out. The Willamette University kicker first told his coach a week earlier. The coach feared that he would say that he was transferring to another school. Seeing as how Connor would be the kicker for the next 4 years at the Division III school, that’d be a huge loss for the team.

               Coach Fowles breathed a sigh of relief and then asked him what was on his mind.

               “I’m bisexual,” Mertens told Fowles. “I like dudes. I have a boyfriend. And next week, I’m going to tell the world.”

               That he would, and he would send the collegiate athletics into something that they had never been into before. The real question within this whole story is is this really a big deal? Jaret Petras, a freshman here at Stony Brook, who’s on the club soccer team and played a year and a half under professional camps in Europe, thinks it is, but for it to come out in sports is even bigger.

               “Homosexuality is a controversial subject and is not socially acceptable by everyone’s standards,” he said.

               “Sports are a major component of American culture and hopefully we can use it to change how we look at homosexuals as a society.”

               Connor is hoping that this would be the jumping off point, and that this would move collegiate athletics into a new development, making it more comfortable for other athletes to come out while playing. But he was taking a big risk in taking this public. Many athletes have come out to their friends, or their coaches, but never publicly, fearing what would happen next.

               Connor was no exception to this, as he feared that he would lose his friends and teammates if he brought up his homosexuality.

               “In a perfect world, everyone would be able to understand that homosexuality is genetically inherited and does not make a person better or worse, just different.” Petras said.

               In a sport like football, where all you hear is the stories about being brothers and family to the end, this would be a big thing to hear. At first it might be a little weird, because it’s a big statement and the American culture really hasn’t gotten used to this and there are still a lot of people who do not like that it has perpetrated into our culture.

               “Because of this, people have a tendency to victimize homosexuals because they do not want to understand something that seems so different.” Petras said.

               The only question within it all is how would this affect the locker room? Would it make it awkward because there’s a gay guy who’s seeing you get dressed? “If it is revealed early in the season, it would make it easier for us as a team to accept it quickly, and as a team” Jaret said.

               “However, if it is revealed later on, the team would feel that we have been misled and it will make the situation needlessly more awkward, especially for the individual person.” He said.

               That isn’t how Mertens is taking it, as he posted a letter picture to twitter, directed at his hometown and at other gay athletes. And it didn’t take long for it to strike home.

               One week later, Connor’s boyfriend, Chandler Whitney, came out as gay. And his locker room experience hasn’t changed. “It has stayed the same, and they still make the same jokes, minus a few choice words” he told SB Nation in an interview last week.

               So is it really a big deal that Connor Mertens came out gay? Yes it is. Connor didn’t just come out gay. He started a movement within collegiate athletics to show them that coming out isn’t as bad as everybody said it would be. It’s the biggest coming out party since Jackie Robinson in 1947, and though it won’t be as big and influential, it is still going to be a big part of athletics, both collegiate and pro, from this point forward.

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