My-King Johnson is the first out player to receive an NCAA football scholarship
When the Arizona Wildcats take the field on September 2 for their season opener against the Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks, My-King Johnson will make history. The highly touted 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pound Wildcat defensive end will become the first openly gay scholarship player in big-time college football history.
And he’s pretty chill about it.
“It can put a target on my back,” Johnson told the Arizona Daily Star. “But whatever.”
Johnson, who was named one of the best defensive players in Arizona his senior year, is so comfortable with being out, because it’s not anything new to the 17-year-old. He’s been openly gay since he was 12, and he didn’t want to hide that fact from teammates. “I’m a very honest person,” he said. “I just don’t see how I could be living an honest, truthful life and have that in the background.”
And his friends and teammates have supported him along the way. “I love how open he is,” Alfonso Arispe told the Daily Star. “He doesn’t care because he’s focused on what he’s doing, and he’s focused on himself. Clearly, it shouldn’t affect anyone else, but no matter what, he doesn’t care about that. It doesn’t bother him one bit.”
There’s hopes he can excel enough to make his way to the NFL, because while great strides have been made in advocacy for LGBTQ athletes, there hasn’t been an openly gay athlete in one of America’s four major sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL) since Jason Collins played for the Brooklyn Nets in 2014 after coming out in a cover story for Sports Illustrated.
Around the same time Collins came out, it seemed all but assured that gay athletes would begin breaking barriers in each league. LGBTQ allies like the Baltimore Ravens’ Brendon Ayanbadejo said four athletes were poised to come out as a group, but that never happened.
We appeared to be on the brink of history when Michael Sam came out in 2014 prior to the NFL draft. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year seemed a lock to become the first openly gay NFL player. However, he slid in the draft to the seventh round and then was cut by the St. Louis Rams before the season began. The Dallas Cowboys signed Sam to the practice squad, but released him before he could ever make the full squad.
Women’s sports, in contrast, have been much more progressive than their male counterparts. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer team and WNBA have proudly celebrated stars like Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Brittney Griner, and Seimone Augustus without any concern for their sexual orientation.
Outsports, a leading LGBTQ sports site, thinks Johnson could be different in the world of men’s sports, because he will be out from the beginning of his career. “The idea is that any male pro team athlete who is openly gay all through college would have an easier time since his sexual orientation will be old news by the time he graduates,” Jim Buzinski wrote.
That’s still a lot of pressure for a 17-year-old who hasn’t even played a down in college yet. However, it doesn’t appear Johnson is getting too caught up in the hype.