At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, defensive end My-King Johnson had all the physical tools necessary to land a Division I football scholarship with the University of Arizona. But there's something about the kid off the field that has people buzzing about the 17-year-old.
That's because in committing to the Wildcats, Johnson became the first openly gay Division I football recruit.
“I do feel like when I say that, it can put a target on my back,” Johnson told The Arizona Republic this weekend about him being a publicly gay, major-college football player.
And despite the headlines that Johnson knows he's going to make as a trailblazer, the teenager just wants to play the game he loves.
He conveyed that very sentiment Saturday with his tweet.
The Arizona Republic additionally reported that Johnson told the Wildcats' defensive line coach, Vincent Amey, that he was gay during the recruiting process.
“When I found out, I really couldn’t sleep,” Amey told the newspaper. “And it wasn’t like I was uncomfortable with it. I was just like, all right, it’s different, it’s new. I said, ‘Look, you are who you are, I am who I am, and I’m going to coach you the same way. I’m going to treat you the same way. I’m going to get on you the same way as everybody else. There’s no difference. You do what you do.’ I said, ‘When the players find out, especially my room, I’m going to tell [those] dudes: 'Look, you gotta have his back.'"
And with that, Johnson perhaps felt the added confidence and support to commit to his home-state Wildcats out of Tempe High School, where the senior baller became a nationally recognized recruit.
Johnson came out to his friends and family when he was 12 years old.
His mom, Nadette Lewis, remembers her first reaction to her son upon learning that he was gay.
"I love you for who you are as a person," Lewis told the newspaper, remembering her first words to him. "Sexuality? It doesn’t matter. That’s how I teach my children. Love who you are no matter what you are, or what you look like. You have to love yourself. If you love yourself first, then everybody else will respect that and have no choice but to love you.”
Added Johnson himself: "I’m a very honest person. I just don’t see how I could be living an honest, truthful life and have that in the background.”
Clap for this young man. We can't wait to see him do his thing on the football field.
In May 2014, a different defensive end, Michael Sam, became the first publicly gay football player to get drafted into the NFL, when the then-St. Louis Rams selected him with a seventh-round, 249th-overall pick. His career in the league quickly fizzled out, though.
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(Photo: Arizona Football via Twitter)