It doesn't seem like a brave act to him, it seemed like a necessary act.
And now, 19-year-old Conner Mertens, a kicker for the Willamette University college football team—and the first active college player to come out as bisexual—is facing death threats because of his announcement to the world on Monday.
"Death threats and people telling me to kill myself, I must be doing something right," Mertens tweeted on Wednesday, two days after he sent out a brave email, and letting his coach and family know that he identified as bisexual and was in a relationship with a guy.
One threat came from the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas saying:
Westboro Baptist Church will picket @willamette_u next time we’re in the area. You’re going to hell, Merts! #RepentOrPerish
The young athlete took it all in stride and replied:
I'm sorry to hear you feel that way. Wish you all the best. God is love my friends.
According to a profile in OutSports.com, Conner talked about growing up closeted in a small, conservative town and how he hopes to open up the eyes of the people he grew up with. His story received praise and support from gay rights activists and former Minnesota Vikings punter and gay rights advocate Chris Kluwe.
Initially, Conner told his parents, told his teammates, and last week notified his coach. Then, he sent out the tweet:
I don't ask for a lot of favors-but I'm cashing one in right now. Please take a minute to read this for me. pic.twitter.com/571c5v9NeO
In the tweet he writes:
"Throughout my life, I have been told who I can and cannot be.... It is important to me to tell you that I Conner Mertens, am bisexual. If that makes you uncomfortable, I refuse to apologize for being who I am, I am the same person today that I was yesterday."
He said that people discouraged him from coming out in his small town, but said, "I hope that town I call home can change. I hope that you will be part of shattering the stereotypes that we have built up."
In a heart-rendering segment of his note to the world, he writes:
"I'm the same kid you walked the halls with, the same kid you played football under the lights of Lampson with, the same kids who drove you to Dairy Queen after basketball games, the same kid you played soccer with the same kid that you prayed with...."
Then, he reached out to people who may be struggling with their own coming out story.
"You are not alone. You do not need to come out, but you need to know that you do not have to go at this by yourself," he writes.
Just two years ago, a college linebacker Jamie Kuntz said that his North Dakota football team kicked him off the team after he kissed his boyfriend in a press box—saying it's a violation of team rules. (See the video attached above.)
Conner spoke to ESPN and said it was a weight off his shoulders:"It's tiring to pretend your something else for 24-7, for 18 or 19 years of your life. So finally to be able to joke about it, to be honest about it, not have to put on this mask, I'm finally able to take a deep breath."
He has dated women and is now in a relationship with a man who attends school in Washington.
So far, the people closest to him, his coach and teammates and family, remain fully supportive. And, he has offered to have others in the closet reach out to him at:
He is a brave young man.