'If not for the strength of athletes like Jason Collins, Michael Sam, and Brian Sims, I would likely still be struggling'
The moment he pushed send on his computer on 4 July, it really was independence day for former college and pro football player Brad Thorson.
He had just published a blog post in which he came out as gay to everyone he knows and plenty of people he didn’t know.
‘I’m putting it in writing and not looking back,’ he wrote. ‘I’m gay.’
‘I’m also an athlete. For years, I struggled to unite these two identities in my own mind. Not until after my professional athletic career came to an end did I allow myself to understand my sexuality. Now, three years later, I’m finally ready to share that with people.’
Thorson played college football as an offensive linesman at both Wisconsin and Kansas. In 2006, his Wisconsin team finished fifth in the country.
A pro career didn’t quite work out.
He was good enough to be ranked 24th out of 49 centers in the 2011 NFL draft by NFLDraftScout. After initially going undrafted, Thorson was signed by the Arizona Cardinals that summer. But he broke his foot and never played in a regular season game.
The next season, he decided to try his luck with the Canadian Football League but during training camp realized he no longer wanted a career in pro football.
Ten months ago, Thorson moved to San Francisco for a new job and joined the rugby team, the Fog. It’s the same team that heroic United 93 passenger Mark Bingham played for and for whom the gay rugby world championship is named for.
‘A month ago at our annual banquet, I met Mark Bingham’s mother,’ Thorson writes. ‘She shared her son’s journey in understanding his masculinity and homosexuality and how he helped her become an advocate for GLBT rights. … Now, in just over a month, I’ll be traveling to Sydney to compete for the Bingham Cup.’
It’s also helped that such athletes as the NFL’s Michael Sam and the NBA’s Jason Collins have made pro sports history by being the first in their respective leagues to come out while playing.
Another role model for Thorson has been Brian Sims, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives became the only openly gay college football captain in NCAA history while playing for Bloomsburg University.
‘If not for the strength of athletes like Jason Collins, Michael Sam, and Brian Sims, I would likely still be struggling with my own cognitive dissonance,’ he writes.
‘Each of their stories reinforced the truth that there is nothing wrong with being a competitive athlete and gay. Just as their stories helped me come to understand and accept myself, I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I hope to help someone else to understand his or her identity as a gay athlete.’