A former football player at the University of Kentucky, a school known as an athletic powerhouse, has come out as gay in a personal essay submitted to Outsports.
Landon Foster, starting punter for the Kentucky Wildcats from 2012 to 2015, recounted his struggle in coming to terms with his sexuality in an environment he describes as a "macho world."
Foster, now 24, said he coped by reading the stories of prominent LGBT figures. Retired NBA player Jason Collins, Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, entertainer Ellen DeGeneres, and former football player Michael Sam are among those he said he respects for their courage.
Still, those stories did not give him the courage to come out to his team, Foster wrote. The news about Michael Sam's coming-out and the Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality came at a time when Foster was dealing with anxiety about his sexuality. So did a Kentucky county clerk's refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, giving his state a reputation for homophobia. Because of all this and his desire to not distract the team from its goals, he remained in the closet, further contributing to his anxiety.
"Every action in my life was first contemplated in my head about what is the most 'straight' thing to say, do or wear," Foster wrote. "When I couldn't trust one of the most fundamental aspects of my existence -- to whom I am attracted -- then trusting myself in any other aspect of life became almost impossible. It forced me to question and overthink every conversation, interaction, opinion or situation."
But "in recent years I have found the strength to be proud of who I am," he wrote.
Now out of college, Foster has left football behind and devoted his time to working for diversity in sports and business. He spoke in April at the TED X conference at the University of South Florida, comparing his own story to that of African-American football player Nathaniel Worthington, who played a key role in integrating the NCAA's Southeastern Conference -- Kentucky's conference -- in the 1960s.
"That story happened twice, within 50 years of each other," Foster said in the TED X Talk. "However, one player had the courage to break the barrier. The other did not."
He wrote in his essay that after 24 years of being closeted, he is now proud of his sexuality: "I will not let my sexual orientation define me, just as race, gender or religion does not define any of us. Each are pieces of an amazing and unique puzzle that is you."