Chapman University defensive end Mitch Eby has come out as gay to his teammates, according to OutSports.com's Cyd Zeigler.
The junior gave a speech to his team on March 18, revealing his sexuality to a warm reaction from teammates, who applauded Eby and his decision.
Eby discussed the challenge of coming out from an athlete's perspective, per Zeigler:
A lot of people use the word ‘gay' with a negative connotation. They say something is ‘gay' and most of the time it's in a very negative light. That made me feel like people have a negative association with somebody being gay. Comments from my friends, my teammates, coaches, everyone I know. Whether they realized it or not, it definitely had an impact on me.
With the team I struggled because I didn't want to make waves or upset the team dynamic. I liked where I was and I was having a lot of fun. I didn't want that to end.
According to Zeigler, Eby drew inspiration from another Division III football player in Conner Mertens, a redshirt freshman kicker at Willamette University who came out as bisexual earlier this year. Mertens partnered with "You Can Play," an organization "dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation, according to the official website.
On Monday, Mertens took to Twitter to congratulate Eby:
A native of Santa Monica, Calif., the 6'1", 225-pound Eby is heading into his senior season with the Panthers, who finished the 2013 season 8-1 to just miss out on an NCAA playoff berth. It's unclear how significant a role Eby will play on the field next season after recording just one tackle in 2013, but it appears he'll have the full support of his teammates and coaches nonetheless.
Although Eby and Chapman University may not receive the same amount of national coverage as NFL prospect Michael Sam and Missouri, for instance, Eby's courageous tale showcases the tremendous strides college athletics has made in terms of acceptance.
With Mertens influencing Eby, there's a good chance that Eby's story will inspire others to come out and help create a more open and respectful atmosphere across the intercollegiate sports landscape.
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