For Crusader footballer Wyatt Pertuset, catching a touchdown pass in the team’s season opener was much more than just six points on the board. Not only was it the first of his college career, but Pertuset’s catch marked the first touchdown ever scored by an openly gay athlete in any division of college football.
“Everything happened so quickly, it was kind of overwhelming,” Pertuset said of his touchdown reception.
The junior wide receiver was able to get open in the end zone after the original play had broken down, and his catch near the end of the first quarter would put the Crusaders ahead of Mount St. Joseph by a score of 14-12. Though his team would end up on the losing end of a 59-21 final score, Pertuset’s touchdown catch was an enormous step for Capital, for the LGBT community, and within his personal life.
Pertuset, both a wide receiver and a punter, is one of only seven openly gay athletes throughout the whole of college football, a staggeringly small number when compared with the number of individuals who play at the collegiate level.
“It’s a little bit sad,” Pertuset mused about the shockingly low number of openly gay college football players, but remarked that it was “kind of cool to have that feeling” of being one of such an elite few. He continued to say that he definitely hopes that number changes.
When asked about the low number of openly gay athletes in the college football world, Pertuset attributed the statistic to the sheer masculinity of the sport.
“No femininity really comes to mind when you think of football,” says Pertuset regarding the nature of the sport.
“… And that word (femininity) can actually come to mind when you think of gay people, the LGBT community…”
Pertuset said that while the masculine mindset of football does not always line up with that of the LGBT agenda, he hopes he can change that.
“That’s what I’m trying to help change, the mindset… just because we are gay, we are openly with it, we are still playing football… we are showing that we are worthy to play this game.”
Pertuset says that dealing with the conflict of these mindsets was just one of the obstacles he faced when making the transition from high school to college. A graduate of North Union High School in Richwood, Ohio, Pertuset held several important positions. In addition to being captain of the football team, he was also student body president and prom king. He admits he struggled academically throughout his first semester at Capital, but was also focused on finding honest friends and allies among the host of new people he was thrown into. He wanted to find people who “would be true with me as I could be with them” as he puts it. Pertuset says that being part of the football team actually helped him in this area, speaking highly of his teammates and commenting that they “treated me like family.”
Though Pertuset credits his relationship with his teammates to their companionship and not the size of Capital’s football program, he says that he often thinks about how his situation would differ had he gone to a bigger university. Though he considers the wave of new variables that would come with being a part of a bigger football program, Pertuset says that it would ultimately not change who he is.
“I’m just really… thankful and grateful to have the people I do here at Capital because they’ve made it all so much… easier. I honestly don’t know what would happen if I went to a bigger school and how it would play out… but at the end of the day, I’d still be exactly who I (am) and exactly how I play.”
Even throughout his comparatively short time on Capital’s football team, Pertuset says he has noticed a change in the attitude towards the relationship between college football and the LGBT community, most obviously on the home front at Capital.
“It was funny,” he said. “… I had a lot of people come up to me and they would (say) ‘You know what? I would’ve never known… that you would be gay, that you would be the gay kid on the team…’”
Pertuset says he is working increasingly hard to make himself into a role model for others who share his experience. Working not only through the instances that come with being an openly gay football player but also a foot injury that kept him sidelined his entire sophomore season, Pertuset says he is working toward standing out as an all-around brave person in order to motivate those who share his situation. Moving forward, Pertuset hopes more stories similar to his will surface throughout college football. To others in his situation, Pertuset’s advice is simple yet poignant: “Do what you do, don’t let anything stop you… no matter what happens… play hard.”
Wyatt Pertuset’s touchdown reception on Sept. 1 was not only the first of his college career, but the first ever by an openly gay athlete. Hopefully, this seemingly normal turn of events that set precedents for both Capital athletics and the LGBT community will inspire change both inside and outside of college football.