“A gay football player," writes Wyatt Pertuset in an essay for Out Sports. "Even today it seems to be something very rare in the game.”
Pertuset is a wide receiver for the Capital University football team, and while homophobic incidents involving athletes are still far too common, Pertuset says his experience as an openly gay football player has been overwhelmingly positive.
Before coming to Capital, Pertuset was a star player at North Union High School in Richwood, a small community in northern Union County. He says he had no intention of coming out until after college.
“But my junior year (of high school), after the season had ended, I had told possibly the wrong person," Pertuset says. "The wrong person actually let it get to the wrong people. Rumors started to spread. The next day, I just came out and said, ‘You know what, there’s nothing I should be scared about. This is me.’”
All of his worrying, Pertuset says, was for naught. Classmates and teammates were supportive and encouraging. His senior year, he was voted a team captain, student body president, homecoming king and prom king.
As for his time on the Capital team?
“College has actually been 10 times better," Pertuset says.
Initially, Pertuset says he didn't want to make his sexuality a big deal in the locker room.
"Within two days, everyone knew and everyone was so accepting," Pertuset says. "I got so much good feedback from everyone on the team and the coaches and the friends I’d made at Capital already.”
Pertuset is listed on the Capital roster as a wide receiver, but he made an impact in his freshman year as a punter. The 19-year-old was called into duty after an injury to the starting punter, and did an admirable job in making 38 punts, including two over 50 yards.
Pertuset expects to be the starting punter in 2017 while also catching some passes at wide receiver.
Despite stories like Pertuset’s, openly gay college and professional football players are still pretty rare, though it’s become more common at smaller schools. By far the best-known example of a player coming out is Michael Sam, the former University of Missouri defensive end named 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
But even Sam waited until after college to come out.
“Even today, there’s still locker room talk about, ‘Oh, this is gross,’ or, ‘Oh, this is so wrong.’" Pertuset says. "You don’t ever hear about how uplifting the stories are that you see, like Michael Sam and Jason Collins.”
Jason Collins was a professional basketball player who in 2014 became the first openly gay player in any of the country’s four largest professional sports league.
When asked why he thinks many players are still scared to come out, Pertuset paused before answering.
“I think it’s a masculinity thing,” he says. “Like once you come out, it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be easier to go against him. He’s just this fragile person. He’s just gay.’ So that just made me push harder to be a better football player just to show that an LGBT community member can show up and play the greatest they can.”