LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) — Two weeks ago Darren Young made history by becoming the first WWE wrestler to publicly disclose that he is gay.
And although one may assume the atmosphere inside of a professional wrestling locker room would more closely resemble a Hollywood set, given the elaborate story lines and over the top in-ring performances, the environment can still parallel that of an NBA or NFL dressing area at times as many of the performers come from traditional athletic backgrounds.
Still, the reaction to Young’s announcement has been “very positive” according to his tag team partner, Titus O’Neil. In fact, it’s been pretty much a non-issue.
O’Neil and Young perform together as the money-driven Prime Time Players on television.
Young’s announcement came as no surprise to O’Neil who tells the “4th & Pain” radio show that he has known about his wrestling counterpart’s sexual orientation for some time.
“Darren is a great friend of mine away from the ring,” O’Neil told Washington Redskins defensive end Adam Carriker and I on the show. “I consider him a part of my family. My kids call him ‘Uncle Darren.’ … At some point you have to say ‘Man, to hell with it. I am who I am. I do what I do and I’m going to be who I want to be.'”
But would Young’s reception have been different had it been in an NFL locker room?
O’Neil and Carriker, both of whom have experience in the NFL, were able to provide unique insight into the question.
Of the four major professional sports in the U.S., only the NBA has an openly gay athlete in Jason Collins. So closeted is the NFL that only a handful of players have chosen to come out after their playing days concluded.
Yet, despite an apparent stigma that still exists within the 32 NFL locker rooms, O’Neil believes a person might have a better overall reception within those confines, than backstage at a wrestling event where fierce battles for television time can lead to low blows, cheap shots and backstabbing in real life.
“If you play a position, you play a position. If you don’t play a position, you’re really not a threat [in the NFL],” O’Neil said. “In WWE, everybody really plays the same position. Everybody is trying to be a WWE Superstar. So, whatever shot you can take, whether it be if a person is gay or not, they’re going to try to make something of it. Whereas in football, whether a person is gay or not it doesn’t matter. If they go out and make plays, they make plays. Period.”
There were rumblings this offseason that a handful of NFL players were considering jointly breaking the sexual orientation barrier, but nothing has come of the rumors to date.
“I can assure you there are guys, whether they came out openly gay or not, there are gay guys in NFL and college locker rooms,” said O’Neil, who played for the Jacksonville Jaguars organization following a collegiate career at the University of Florida.
Although ultra-competitive behind the scenes, WWE has publicly supported Young.
The wrestling organization is highly touted for its philanthropic work in the community that including the Be A STAR anti-bullying effort. The campaign aims to teach children not to discriminate against others regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation.
Young, a 29-year-old New Jersey native, is not the first openly gay wrestler in the history of the company. In the past, a few wrestlers have chosen to come out within the confines of the locker room, but have kept their sexual preference from the public.
Orlando Jordan, a former WWE talent, portrayed an openly bisexual character during a 19-month tenure with competing Total Nonstop Action Wrestling that began in 2010. He is also bisexual in real life.
Young, whose real name is Frederick Rosser, wants to inspire others within WWE who fear coming out will prove detrimental to their personal and professional lives.
“I’m hoping to be able to make a difference,” he said. “It’s very important to me that people understand that someone’s sexual preference shouldn’t really matter. It should be about the person.”
Young has been a mainstay on the WWE roster since 2010 and is not expecting the disclosure to impact his in-ring performance. He expects others in the company to put personal feelings aside and maintain professionalism in the event they are worried about contact in the ring.
“All sports are physical. We’re all adults,” said Young. “To be honest with you, when I come to work, I come to work. This is business. I’m a WWE Superstar. I’m there to entertain the WWE Universe and that’s what my job is to do and I do it well.”