Conner Mertens is the First Active College Football Player to Come Out Publicly


Conner Mertens, a kicker on Willamette University's football team, has come out of the closet, making him the first active college football player to do so, Outsports reports.

Conner_mertensMertens's coming out has been received with open arms by coaches, and by players, who read a letter Mertens tweeted to his hometown last night, writes Cyd Zeigler:

One by one the players shared what was on their minds. At one point, one of the bigger guys on the team had something to say. This was one of the players of whose reaction Mertens was most afraid. He has a reputation of seeking out fights, eager for fisticuffs, Mertens said. He laid it all on the line in front of the team.

"If anyone has a problem with Conner," he said, "I'll kick your ass."

Every one of the team members who spoke shared the same sentiment. Mertens is a member of the team, he has a bright future on the gridiron, and it just doesn't matter if he has a boyfriend or a girlfriend.

"It's been insanely incredible," Mertens said a couple hours after the meeting last night. Text messages and phone calls poured in from the team, all offering their love and support. "I'm speechless. That is the only word I can use to describe this. Even a lot of the guys on the football team I was most scared of are the ones who have been the most amazing."

One of them asked Mertens to meet him on campus. When he arrived, the player gave his kicker a warm embrace.

"I love you man," the player said. "This doesn't change anything."

Read the full piece, with more reaction from players, head coach Glen Fowles, and Mertens, HERE.


  1. rjinva says

    If anything reveals that the frenzy of the wingnuts in their varying condemnations and pretense that gay rights is somehow an assault on human rights instead of a core component of human rights it is stories like this. The world really is changing & for the better :)

  2. Randy says

    It’s worth pointing out that he came out as bi. That doesn’t seem to get enough visibility all the time.

    This young leader deserves our respect.

  3. Jack M says

    This is the new generation, and they don’t think the same way the older generations do. Thank goodness!

  4. anon says

    There’ve been several HS footballers that came out, so are we saying none went on to college football?

  5. Bruce says

    I think Brian Sims came out while on the football team at Bloomsburg University.

    All the same – Congratulations to Conner!

  6. scooternva says

    Yes, but Brian didn’t come out publicly until after he left school. That doesn’t lessen the impact of what he did (coming out to his teammates while he was playing), but what Conner did has taken it to another level. Kudos to you, Conner–your visibility will help more kids in the closet than you can possibly imagine.

  7. kipp says

    This is a private university the size of a high school – so the significance for “College Football” is being oversold. Nonetheless, good for him and for us all.

  8. Bob says

    Awesome! This is what a dignified, courageous man looks like. You’ll notice that he does not call himself “queer,” does not equate himself with a transsexual, nor does he otherwise behave like a clown. He simply is who he is.

  9. says

    He also didn’t denigrate those who self-identify as Queer nor denigrate transsexuals, “Bob.” Maybe Conner can donate you one of his balls, autographed!

  10. says

    Just put Willamette on my track list for College Football. Be keeping an eye on you next year. Congratulations on taking this brave stand and for all the good it will do the next generation.

    When you get a chance tell that big bruiser teammate who threatened to kick ass that we send him our love also.

  11. rebarb says

    Wow! It’s been a long time since I’ve played football,and I can remember being terrified that I’d be found out. I’m so glad& I thank him for his courage.

  12. Craig says

    Very small school in a fairly liberal town in Oregon. Let’s wait for this to happen in Starksville and see what happens. But good for him anyway.

  13. Francis says

    Not surprised at the reaction from teammates. The school is considered very liberal, and yes, it’s very small. More “everyone knows everyone” environment. Maybe it’s not a huge national story but these coming out stories are all part of a path that will lead to that one major coming out that we’re waiting for. Until then lets celebrate yet another one of our own coming out and receiving a positive response. The youth are changing things when it comes to this issue.

  14. alex says

    @Kipp: It may have fewer students than some larger high schools, but that doesn’t make it insignificant. Willamette University has 12+ residence halls, two libraries, a museum of art, four dining locations, and over 15 academic buildings. I’ve never heard of a high school having anything like that.

  15. trapelo says

    Good for him! Although one minor complaint: I wish gay guys would stop saying they are bisexual when in fact they are 100% gay. Women can be truly bisexual because their sexuality is fluid but men almost always are either gay or straight. Every guy I have ever met who came out as bi “became” 100% gay within a year. For example, Elton John originally came out as bi, Johnny Weir came out as bi,Mica came out as bi, Greg Louganis came out as bi and guess what? They’re all 100% gay. Not hating but just saying.

  16. says

    Trapelo, please do some research before you start generalizing that “all bisexual men are 100% gay” because a lot of gay men label themselves bisexual for a while.

    Lots of gay men label themselves straight for a long time, but that doesn’t mean that straight men don’t exist.

    So kindly quit insisting that bisexual men are liars. We would prefer some support from you rather than being told we don;t belong *anywhere*.

  17. mike128 says

    Wow. There are some really harsh commenters here.

    I WISH I would have had this kind of courage and support while in college. However he labels himself, he is able to be honest and open with his sexuality as he understands it at this point in his life. Yes, “bisexual” is a transitory label for some men (but not all), yet is it any less true to identify as “bisexual” if that’s how you understand yourself for a period of time? We all know that labels only help us understand each other and ourselves… they never fully capture who we are. I identified and had a bisexual experience for a number of years before identifying as gay, and wasn’t taking on that identity because it was particularly easy or I felt I needed to lie. I also know bi men who originally came out as gay, and went the other way. Let’s not be hard on people who are young and (perhaps) still figuring it out – we’re all entitled to exploration and some understanding. Isn’t that what we’re fighting for?

  18. Rob says

    He has secured a place in LGBT history. Brave dude. Not saying I want to shower with him, not saying I don’t. Just glad.

  19. I wont grow up says

    Another brave young man doing a very courageous thing. The NFL is another story, but it will come.

  20. Rick says

    Non-event. He is a KICKER for a tiny school that is totally off the radar of big-time college football.


  21. WC says

    Oh come on. He plays for a Division III school. Good for him personally but his coming out is irrelevant just like his football team. Until an NFL player comes out nobody will care.

  22. RJ says

    RICK says: “Non-event. He is a KICKER for a tiny school that is totally off the radar of big-time college football.


    Translation: He’s only a kicker, He doesn’t play a really masculine position like quarterback or offensive lineman.

  23. RD says

    As a resident of Salem Oregon, where Willamette University is located, I can honestly state that it is NOT ‘fairly liberal’ and Willamette University is an extremely conservative college that focuses on producing lawyers… What this young man did was nothing short of heroic, “Kicker” or not!

  24. mikeflower says

    I expect that Conner will have a comfy career as a Beltway lawyer in a Republican Party-affiliated firm as their token gay. He’ll be tolerated so long as he doesn’t go back on his Christian Conservative ideology.