Topeka, Kan. Former Kansas offensive lineman Brad Thorson had a direct message to share on his personal blog on July 4.
“I’m gay,” he wrote. And with those two words, Thorson became the first former University of Kansas football player to announce publicly that he is gay.
“I was insanely nervous for potential backlash or something like that,” Thorson said in an interview with the Capital-Journal. “But really after I hit send, I just remembered the great place I’m in and that nothing’s changed a minute before and a minute after. It became easy to do.
“After that was over, I was like, ‘Oh, wow. This momentous moment in my life is not that big of a deal anymore.’”
Thorson, who played at KU from 2008-10 and started all 24 games during his final two seasons, received immediate response following his announcement.
Former KU teammates—including Tim Biere and Ted McNulty—have contacted him in recent days, along dozens of other athletes both gay and straight.
“It’s honestly the opposite of what I expected,” Thorson told the newspaper. “Not that I thought that I’d have teammates come out and say really negative things, but I expected a lot of silence, and it’s been the exact opposite. The fact that I can’t even recall all the people today alone who have just sent congratulation-type messages is overwhelming.”
Thorson, who works now in publisher relations for an advertising startup in San Francisco, said he had yet to come to grips with his sexuality during his playing days at KU.
“Not until football came to a halt did I have the impetus to look at my life and say, ‘Who am I? Who do I want to be?’” Thorson said. “And so the fact that I kept repeating my … I don’t know if it’s an excuse or my reason for staying in the closet was a lack of role models, it became pretty evident that I was doing a disservice to my half-self who was uncomfortable with who he was by not coming out.”
Though unsure of his sexuality at the time, Thorson still spent many hours at KU in a locker room setting—a place that has been long thought to be a location where gay athletes might not be welcome.
Thorson watched with admiration when Missouri linebacker Michael Sam announced he was gay before the 2014 NFL draft. Sam later was taken in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams.
“I thought that anytime I heard people say, ‘Oh, it’s not a big deal. This is 2014.’ It is a big deal. It’s a huge deal. And I think it does pain me a little bit to say such great things about a Missouri Tiger,” Thorson said with a laugh, “but I think his strength was something that made me feel like, ‘I need to stop waiting. I need to get over my fears a little bit.’
“His decision, I’m still in awe of it. It was instrumental in me coming to accept myself over the past six months.”
Thorson says the biggest reason for going public about being gay was for himself. Though he’d been comfortable with who he was for a few months, he wasn’t sure opening up about it was in his best interest.
“It’s just been a journey,” Thorson said. “I got to a point where I started to tell myself, ‘I don’t need to do this. I don’t owe anybody anything.’ And I started to meet a lot of people involved in the LGBTQ movement. And one of the common things that I kept hearing myself say is that the biggest part for me is that I never felt like I had the right role models or people to look up to. If I could have just seen somebody else be like me, it would have helped. That would have made all the difference.”
Going forward, Thorson plans to respond to those who have emailed him in the last week.
And though he’s been liberated by his blog post, he also hopes others might be changed by it as well.
“I do think it’s an incremental process of showing other people who may be in the darkness that it’s OK,” Thorson said. “Kansas isn’t known as being the most progressive state. If I can change a couple people’s minds there, that homosexuality isn’t a bad thing, that it doesn’t really matter in our day-to-day lives, and then we can move on to more important discussions, that’s a victory in my mind.
“I don’t see myself converting lots of people into changing their negative opinions about homosexuality, but helping one kid, changing one person’s mind is enough of a success. That would be success enough for me. I hope I’ve already done that.”