LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) — WWE pro wrestler Darren Young has announced he is gay.
Young, who is a member of the Prime Time Players with Titus O’Neil, came out to TMZ when asked if he thought a gay wrestler could be successful in WWE.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Look at me. I’m a WWE Superstar and to be honest with you, right now, I’ll tell you I’m gay and I’m happy. Very happy.”
Young’s disclosure is not part of his onscreen character.
“Some people might not like it, some people will like it… But I’m here to be happy,” he said. “It’s very important I’m happy with myself.”
It is the first time a WWE wrestler has publicly identified themselves as gay or lesbian and the company is standing behind his decision.
“WWE is proud of Darren Young for being open about his sexuality, and we will continue to support him as a WWE Superstar,” a company statement read.
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 is scheduled to participant in a Be A STAR rally Thursday in Los Angeles.
John Cena, the current WWE Champion and the most popular wrestler in the company, says he is proud of Young’s decision to come out.
“Darren is a great guy and that’s a very bold move for him. Congratulations to him for finally doing it,” Cena told TMZ. “Good for him.”
For Cena, Young’s announcement hits close to home. The wrestling icon has an older brother who is openly gay.
“Coming from a family of five boys that’s extremely tough to admit that,” Cena said. “He’s openly accepted by my family.”
Stephanie McMahon, WWE’s Executive Vice President and daughter of Vince McMahon, is also congratulating Young.
“Congratulations to @DarrenYoungWWE for being the first openly gay WWE Superstar!” McMahon tweeted.
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.
Current ESPN personality Jonathan Coachman was employed by WWE for nearly a decade and says homosexuality is not an issue in the locker room.
“I spent ten years in the WWE and there were several openly gay wrestlers and some of our old school guys as well,” he said on his radio show, per SB Nation. “Never an issue and not only were we getting naked in front of each other, but we were wrestling each other in the ring and it wasn’t an issue.”
Young follows in the footsteps of Jason Collins who became the first openly gay active NBA player earlier this year.