Willamette University football player comes out as gay - KPTV - FOX 12

Willamette University football player comes out as gay

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Conner Mertens Conner Mertens
SALEM, OR (KPTV) -

A Willamette University football player is the first active college football player at any level to come out as gay.

"It's easily the hardest thing I've had to do in my life," Conner Mertens said. "You don't know how people are going to take it. You see the horror stories."

Mertens is a redshirt freshman kicker for the Willamette University football team.

Yesterday, Mertens spoke with his team and told them he is gay.

"If I can stop a couple of kids from feeling the way I felt, and I got a little bit of crap about it, then it would be worth it," he said.

Mertens told his head coach Glen Fowles what he was going to do last week. Fowles said he and the team support Mertens 100 percent.

"The bottom line is Conner is a teammate and I don't think there's going to be anybody that would intentionally go out and try to make it an uncomfortable position for him," Fowles said.

Mertens was a two-sport athlete in high school and tore his ACL playing soccer. Because of that injury, Mertens hasn't played a down for Willamette yet, but he's hoping to make it back on the field this year, and compete for the starting spot.

"I got a lot bigger guys than me standing behind me that will take care of me," Mertens said.

Mertens said he has thought about quitting sports several times in his life because of teasing and bullying. Gay slurs are rampant in sports, especially football, he said.

"Being a kicker, you learn how to shut out a lot of things," Mertens said.

With the weight of his secret off his shoulders, now Mertens is eager to get back on the field and win. Even though he's drawing a lot of attention, there are no guarantees that he will be the starting kicker.

Mertens will have to compete for that spot on the roster, and he's still recovering from his knee injury.

"It would be great if I could knock down a 44-yard field goal to win it and have them call me gay, cause (I'd say) a gay kid just beat you," Mertens said.

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