“Coming out is overwhelming when you are faced with the first disclosure with the people that you look up to.”
Billy Bean would know.
The former major league outfielder is the only living big league player to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality, despite conventional wisdom that there have likely been hundreds of others that chose to keep their secret.
Studies vary, but it is estimated by several UCLA reports that between three and five percent of the American population identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender – “LGBT” for short.
So if an estimated 8.2 million Americans are LGBT, it stands to reason that a good number of them are sports enthusiasts.
You never know. One of them might be right in your own backyard.
“I came out to my teammates first,” says Felipe Oliveira, an outside hitter on the Cardinal Stritch University volleyball team. Maybe as a sign of the times, his teammates didn’t bat an eye.
“They were very happy about it,” Oliveira who grew up in Brazil, continues. “They were like, ‘It’s okay. Whatever.’ I thought I was hiding. I thought they would be totally shocked. Some of them were.”
Still, even for the ones that weren’t surprised, Oliveira’s revelation only meant that they were happy he was able to live his life authentically.
Still, there haven’t been many athletes to come out of the closet, perhaps using Michael Sam as a cautionary tale.
Sam was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year heading into the 2014 NFL draft; he came out just before the scouting combine.
He also never played a single down in a regular season NFL game.
Still, he was living his truth, which for someone like Oliveira, meant not only being able to build real relationships based on authenticity, but also the unexpected position of instant role model for young athletes struggling with their own identity.
“Find somebody (you) can feel comfortable with,” Oliveira says of young people that have sought his advice in coming out. “There’s always going to be that person that’s going to be there for you. It may be your parents; it may be your friends. There are people out there that love you and you can count on them.”