DE comes out with Mertens' support

Mitch Eby, a junior defensive end at private Chapman University in Orange, Calif., found the courage to tell his teammates he is gay after a talk with Conner Mertens, the Willamette University kicker who announced in January that he is bisexual.

Eby reached out to Mertens for guidance before talking with his coach and teammates, and their discussion, Eby said, helped him deal with the stigma he carried about gay athletes.

"A lot of people use the word 'gay' with a negative connotation," Eby told SBNation.com recently. "They say something is 'gay,' and most of the time it's in a very negative light. That made me feel like people have a negative association with somebody being gay. Comments from my friends, my teammates, coaches, everyone I know, whether they realized it or not, it definitely had an impact on me."

Eby, who shared his story with his roommates and coach before telling the entire team prior to a dinner gathering, has appreciated the support and positive comments since coming out to them.

"Some of the people I thought would take it the worst have since been the friendliest to me," Eby said, according to SBNation.com. "More people have said 'what's up' to me in passing and been even friendlier than ever before. Maybe they feel bad for what they said or did before, but whatever the reason, they feel like they need to be nice to me, to show me that I'm still a part of the team."

Mertens, who said in January that he hoped his announcement would help dispel the stereotypes and stigmas associated with bisexual athletes and in turn let other LGBT athletes know they are not alone, called Eby reaching out "exactly what I wanted."

"As soon as I got an email from him, it was exactly what I wanted, to see athletes like Mitch reaching out to me for help," Mertens said. "The first thing I asked him was, 'Are you ready to start living your life?' He said he was very ready for it. Being out of the closet is so different from living life in it."

Former Missouri football player Michael Sam announced in February that he is gay and could become the NFL's first openly gay player. The defensive end is projected to be a midround draft pick in May.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.