Student athlete Ian Johnson becomes unofficial LGBTQ+ community spokesperson
Ian Johnson ran over to the far bleachers to grab a ball that was left behind after their practice Thursday morning. He made his way back and grabbed a seat on the sidelines by the visitors’ bench to start what would be one of multiple interviews he has done since coming out. He sat down, fixed his hat and began answering questions confidently.
Johnson has always been a leader on the soccer field. Now, he’s a leader for the LGBTQ community. Since coming out, he’s been under the spotlight of campus media, often being asked to speak for the community he now represents. He embraces being an out student-athlete, and all that has come with it.
Now a senior, Johnson came out New Year’s Eve via Instagram during his sophomore year at Montclair State University. He came out to his parents prior to the post.
Ever since coming out he has “received nothing but love and support from his teammates and coaches” as Ian describes Montclair State to be, “not only accepting of gay athletes, but of people that are different .”
As the interview with Ian came to a close, a discussion was had on what the viewers and fans of soccer can do to make a safer environment for out-athletes. His hopes?
He says he’s seen great stride on the soccer community.
“You see the U.S. Men’s National Team during Pride Month in June,” Johnson said “they’ll wear their jersey with rainbow colored numbers and that does get a lot of hate on social media from their fans. Just seeing the fact that US Soccer knows they’re gonna get hate and they still follow through with it, that in itself is a step forward for our community and for the sport.”
With that come representation within the sport and for little boys, like Johnson, who are growing up, questioning their sexuality and playing a sport have someone to look up too.
As of now, the United States Men’s team has no openly out players. This is not the same for women. The United States Women’s National team alone has five openly out players representing their country, two of which are engaged to each other. In women’s sports, seeing a gay athlete is almost the norm. Take a look at professional soccer in the United States.
Collin Martin is a midfielder for Major League Soccer (MLS) team Minnesota United FC. Martin is in his third season with the United. He started is MLS career with the D.C. United in 2013 and made is Minnesota United debut in 2017.
Similar to Ian, Martin came out via a Twitter post that was spread to his 17,000 followers in 2018.
The love for Martin was pouring through his comments after he came out. Multiple teams expressed their support including one tweet that stood out written by his father:
According to Athlete Ally, who honored him during their sixth annual awards night:
“…Martin became the only openly gay, active Major Soccer League player and the only out gay man in any of the big five American sports leagues or any top-division professional men’s national soccer league.”
So why is there such a difference between men and women’s professional sports when it comes to openly out athletes?
‘Out on the Fields’ is a recent international study examining homophobia in sports for those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB). Numbers from the study were high then expected for each respective category.
The study found that a high percentage of those that participated felt youth sports was unsafe for LGB kids. Leaders of the survey surveyed reasons as to why gay women and men both youth and adults chose not to participate in team sports.
Australian, Brianna, a participant in the study talks about coming out to her parents but waiting two years after to come out to her teammates:
“Although I am out to my family it has taken me more than two years to come out to my sporting club and sports friends,” Brianna says “because I fear the ridicule and isolation. I have only very recently come out to a few people to my local sports team.”
This brings back the question of what fans can do to make sure the environment is safe for out-athletes. Fans are very passionate and especially in soccer over in Europe it can get very intense. This leads to things being said that keep those from being freely themselves.There is still work that needs to be done in order to create spaces where athletes both male and female can feel comfortable to come out and not have to worry about any repercussions.