Despite it being 2017, the experience of coming out as gay remains a challenge for many. This is particularly true for male athletes, as the athletic environment still maintains much of its bravado and expectation that boys and men are masculine. Expressions like “boys will be boys” may cause a male gay athlete to fear coming out—can he still be “one of the boys” if he is gay? Well, as one University of Nebraska track athlete found out recently, yes he can. 

Jace Anderson, currently a 2nd year student at UNL, had been living two lives. He was open about his sexual orientation with his close (non-athlete) friends. But on the track field, in the gym, and at social events with other athletes, he was still in the closet, so much so that he had denied being gay when openly confronted about it. However, one day at a party last year, something changed for Jace.

In a YouTube video he created about his coming out experience, Jace says he was at a party last year when “in walked three gigantic human beings. They were football players—line men. Anywhere from 6’6″ to 6’8″ and 250 lbs.” Jace says he ended up alone on a balcony with these three fellow athletes as the rest of his friends had gone back inside. It was then that one said to Jace, “Hey man. It was brought up in conversation that you swing for the other team.”

Jace says that although he had denied it before, he felt he couldn’t at this point because his friends at the party knew the truth. So after a moment or two of hesitation, Jace responded, “Yeah.” And what happened next changed his life. These three “gigantic human beings” who, if you believe the stereotypes and assumptions about football players, should tease him, ostracize him, even harm him, did the exact opposite.

Jace shares that one of them then said, “We just want to let you know that we think it’s awesome and commend you for not denying it.” They then stood there together, on that balcony, making small talk and learning about each other. He says that they probably could tell he was nervous, so they each gave him a hug. And their treatment of Jace didn’t end that night either. Whenever he sees these football players on campus, he gets more than a head nod from them now. Now, “it’s more like ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ It’s like actual conversation,” Jace shares.

However, even though that pivotal night gave Jace the confidence that he could be his authentic self on all parts of campus, even around athletes, he shares in his YouTube video that he still remained in the closet oftentimes. He says the switching back and forth between hiding and being honest was “exhausting.” Over time, though, more and more people found out. And at some point, Jace realized that “no one really cared.” He says that he had an epiphany, and it dawned on him that the biggest person who had an issue with it, who was scared, was him. 

So he decided to officially come out via this YouTube video. Jace tells Her View From Home:

I decided to come out via video explaining my experiences being a gay individual in an athletic setting because I remember a time feeling that I was the only one like me. Yes, you hear of out gay athletes such as Gus Kenworthy or Michael Sam but it almost seemed unreal with their popularity because they were already at the top. It didn’t make me feel any better initially because in that moment still very much closeted, I didn’t know of too many others like me in that current position; going to college, competing in a collegiate sport, and just doing life as a “regular” person. I had a few openly out gay female athlete friends that I was comfortable with and looked to for security, but in athletics, in my head, it seemed a lot more acceptable for there to be gay female athletes in such a “macho” setting. After a long time of growth and self-acceptance as well as feeling that acceptance from others, I little by little learned that it was “okay” to be who I was and I wanted to share that with others.

He also tells us that he’s shocked and honored by the response he’s seen to his video.

I’ve received a number of thank you messages, people telling  me how proud and thankful they are of me sharing my experience with them and that this will touch more people that I will know. The love and support that I’ve received from this is incredible. Random people I’ve never met have even contacted me with such amazing messages. It’s all been a little overwhelming, however I feel so honored that I’m in a position where I can help people and be a role model for them.

Jace shares in his YouTube video that he hopes to make more, including one about how he came out to his family. For now, his story about learning to be open and authentically himself, even around big macho football players, is inspiring others to have courage. And it is breaking down stereotypes about today’s male athletes. There’s good stuff happening on the UNL campus and at universities around the country where students are learning how to co-exist, accept each other, and learn about each other’s differences. It’s progress. And it’s beautiful.

Karen Johnson

Karen Johnson is a freelance writer who is known on social media as The 21st Century SAHM. She is an assistant editor at Sammiches and Psych Meds, staff writer and social media manager for Scary Mommy, and is the author of I Brushed My Hair Today, A Mom Journal for Mostly Together Moms. Follow Karen on Facebook, Twitter , and Instagram