Arizona State Sun Devils players run out onto the field before a game against the Stanford Cardinals at Sun Devil Stadium on December 7, 2013.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty

D1 football gets its first openly gay player

Following in the cleat-prints of Michael Sam, Arizona State linebacker Edward “Chip” Sarafin announced this week that he was gay. He is the first active player in Division I football to publicly come out.

Speaking with the Phoenix-based Compete Magazine, Sarafin told writer Joshua Wyrick the decision to be honest about his sexual orientation was “really personal,” and one that “benefited [his] peace of mind greatly.” Like Sam, whom Sarafin reportedly cited as an inspiration, the backup lineman came out to his teammates before reaching out the press.

Michael Sam came out three months before he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in May, becoming the first openly gay player in the National Football League. But Sam’s announcement followed his graduation from the University of Missouri, another D1 school. Though he’s never appeared in a game, Sarafin is the first gay player in a major college football program to come out publicly while in school.

Arizona has been a focal point in the debate over gay rights. Earlier this year, the state legislature passed a controversial religious freedom measure that some feared would be a license to discriminate against LGBT people. Under enormous pressure from major corporations – including the NFL, which was preparing to move next year’s Super Bowl out of Glendale – Republican Gov. Jan Brewer ended up vetoing the bill.

On growing up in Arizona, the  6’6”, 320-pound Sarafin said it upset him to see people bullied for being different.

“I went to school at Highland High, and it is definitely not the most diverse school,” he told Compete. “It’s probably 80% Mormon and 80% Caucasian. So there is definitely a disparity there in the types of people that you meet. I know a lot of times a lot of people who were bullied because they were different were actually bullied by athletes, and that made me really angry … The athletes are supposed to be the role models, the heroes of the community.”

At ASU, however, Sarafin has so far received nothing but support.

“We are a brotherhood that is not defined by cultural and personal differences, but rather an individual’s commitment to the Sun Devil Way,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham in a statement. “Chip is a fifth-year senior and a Scholar Baller, a graduate and a master’s student. His commitment to service is unmatched and it is clear he is on his way to leading a successful life after his playing career, a goal that I have for every student-athlete. Diversity and acceptance are two of the pillars of our program, and he has full support from his teammates and the coaching staff.”

Michael Sam also praised Sarafin on Twitter: