|Mitch Eby of Chapman University|
Playing football and baseball in high school, Eby refused to admit to himself he was gay. Years of locker room banter plus what he saw in the media in how gays were portrayed fed his fear of coming out.
And then he saw a story regarding Conner Mertens, freshman kicker at Willamette University who came out publicly as bisexual in January. Eby reached out to Mertens several weeks ago and the two hit it off.
"As soon as I got an email from him, it was exactly what I wanted, to see athletes like Mitch reaching out to me for help," Mertens said. "The first thing I asked him was, ‘Are you ready to start living your life?' He said he was very ready for it. Being out of the closet is so different from living life in it."
After weeks of talking with Conner, he addressed his team with a prepared speech.
"I came up here today to talk to you guys about something that I've been dealing with for quite a while. It's something personal that I've always thought I could just bury away, but I can't. We live life so worried about how other people view us that we forget about ourselves. I can no longer go on living in fear, repressing myself because of how society may view me. I can no longer lie to my friends, family and teammates. It's time I lived life for myself for a change.
"With that being said, I am ready to share with you all that I am gay.
"It has taken me years to accept myself for who I truly am, so it's irrational to expect everybody to unconditionally accept me right away. However, the one thing that I hope that I can count on from each of you, my teammates, is your respect. Your respect as a friend, your respect as a teammate, and your respect as a man.
"Being gay may be something that defines me, but it does not limit me. It is such a small part of who I am. I am the same person you all know, no different than before. I'm still the kid that is obsessed with pretty much anything having to do with sports, I'm still the kid that some of you love to call stupid nicknames like ‘mom' and ‘hot dog,' and I'm still someone who will continue to go out there every day and push myself and push my teammates to be the best football team around. I am your teammate, I am your classmate and I am your brother. And I know that my brothers will continue to stand by my side, no matter what."
When he had finished speaking, the team erupted in applause. Eby smiled, taken aback by the overwhelming response. As the clapping ceased, Eby broke the silence with the most profound words he would share all night:
"So how about some pizza?"
As the team gathered for dinner, various teammates hugged Eby, thanking him for sharing himself and trusting them. One teammate even called Eby his "hero."
Read more about Mitch's coming out and how the pieces came together for him to live his life openly at OutSports.
Congrats Mitch on honoring who you are, and for sharing your story with the world. Like Conner before you, you are helping other young athletes fully own who they are with pride.