SALEM, Ore. — Willamette University freshman kicker Conner Mertens has come out as bisexual, becoming the first active college football player to come out as LGBT.
Outsports.com reports that Mertens, 19, who is set to be the front-runner for the team’s placekicker position in 2014, first came out to head coach Glen Fowles, and then asked for some time to announce it to his teammates.
Mertens asked Fowles if he was a good kicker. Fowles confirmed. He then asked if his role on the team would be affected by things he did off the field, or if he’d be judged by his performance. All that mattered to Fowles was whether he could kick that ball through those two goal posts. That was reassuring, Mertens said, because he had something very personal to share with his coach.
“I’m bisexual,” Mertens told Fowles. “I like dudes. I have a boyfriend. And next week, I’m going to tell the world.”
Fowles said Mertens’ teammates have given him their “unwavering support.”
“They were supportive because he’s one of their teammates. It was impressive. After that meeting I congratulated the coaches for recruiting good men. We’ve got something special here. I was so proud of those guys. If that’s the future of young men in America, we’ve got a shot. It was awesome,” said Fowles.
Freshman linebacker Kyle Shaver, who is part of the team’s leadership group, told OutSports.com that the team would not accept any type of homophobia and that anyone who is not OK with Mertens being bisexual will have to keep it internalized.One of the team’s more aggressive players, whose reaction was feared by Mertens because he has a reputation for seeking out fights, had the following to say: “If anyone has a problem with Conner, I’ll kick your ass.”
Willamette issued a statement supporting Mertens’ decision, saying the university “respects his contribution to a more humane and just world.”