Camp Tontozona, Ariz. (AP) – Chip Sarafin watched the others before him break down the barriers, athletes like Jason Collins and Michael Sam who let the world know they were gay.
The Arizona State offensive lineman had already told his teammates and coaches long before, without causing so much as a ripple.
But when Sarafin finally took his turn to pass through the door, he was a little surprised to find what was on the other side.
“I was a little nervous when it came to my attention what a big influence this was having,” Sarafin said Thursday. “I did not intend for it to get to the magnitude that it did.”
Sarafin became the first active openly-gay Division I football player when he talked to Compete, a Tempe-based magazine for gay sports, about his sexual orientation for a story in its August issue.
The fifth-year senior follows in the footsteps of Sam, the St. Louis Rams linebacker who came out after his playing days at Missouri were over. Sam became the first openly-gay player to be drafted in the NFL and is competing for a roster spot with the Rams.
Collins set the original precedent, becoming the first openly-gay athlete in the four major U.S. sports when he came out to Sports Illustrated in April 2013. He broke another barrier when he played for the Brooklyn Nets late last season.
Numerous other athletes have come out since then, including Massachusetts sophomore Derrick Gordon, the first active openly-gay player in Division I basketball.
With so many precedent-setters before him, Sarafin figured his announcement would be treated with little more than a shrug.
It wasn’t quite the same fervor as Sam’s announcement, but it still was big news, drawing more than a dozen reporters and cameramen to the Sun Devils’ fall camp retreat at Camp Tontozona.
“I’m hoping that stuff like this won’t be such a big news story, that people will hear stories like this and it won’t be such a big thing,” Sarafin said. “Eventually, players will be who they are and it’s just that, but right now there still needs to be role models for those types of players.”
It certainly wasn’t a big thing for Sarafin’s teammates and coaches.
Sarafin said he began telling teammates in an informal fashion individually and answered questions when people had them, never addressing the team as a group. He told his coaches over a year ago and has had universal support from everyone associated with the football program and the athletics department.
When Sarafin’s sexual orientation became public, it barely registered at Arizona State, other than the increased media coverage.
“I’m really proud of our guys. It’s not something that’s a surprise to us,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. “Obviously, our guys were aware of that and we’re proud of Chip just like we’re proud of the rest of our guys. Really proud of him and the courage he has. Our guys are behind him 100 percent.”
Reaction to Sarafin’s announcement outside of Arizona State was mostly positive, with Sam and Collins both offering encouraging comments on Twitter. Sarafin hasn’t seen the posts since players are not allowed to get on the Internet or use cellphones at Camp Tontozona, though he appreciated the support.
But attention wasn’t what Sarafin was looking for – at least not the living-in-the-spotlight kind.
Though he hasn’t played a down for Arizona State, he’s given the Sun Devils some needed depth on the offensive line and worked on the scout team.
Sarafin has been exceptionally productive off the field, graduating with a degree in biomedical engineering last spring before enrolling in Arizona State’s master’s program. He has been active in the community, particularly in youth sports, and is a member of ASU’s prestigious Tillman Scholars program.
Sarafin has helped with research on football-related concussions and has worked with numerous groups to end discrimination and bullying in youth sports.
If the attention that comes with coming out sheds more light on those things, Sarafin is all for it, even if he did feel a little uncomfortable talking in front of so many people.
“It (coming out) was something I initially intended to do, but I didn’t intend for it to blow out of proportion like it did,” he said. “I originally did it to get some of the stuff I was working on out into the world, bring attention to some of the issues I thought were important. Obviously, it got to the magnitude that it did and I support this.”