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NCAA Wrestling Champ Mike Pucillo Comes Out: “I Want People To Know You Aren’t Alone”
While pro sportsmen who come out in the NFL and NBA draw the media spotlight, student athletes who share their story are changing the hearts and minds of the next generation.
Mike Pucillo, a former Ohio State wrestler, is one such trailblazer: The three-time All-American and 2008 NCAA Division I champion came out on Friday in an interview with The Open Mat.
“I wish I was able to be myself seven years ago while still competing in college, but it isn’t until now that I am comfortable with myself to tell my story,” said Pucillo, 26.
College sports are a bastion of old-school macho attitudes. Wrestling in particular, can spark anxiety in young gay men.
“It’s two dudes rolling around on a mat—people who don’t know wrestling call [singlets] ‘leotards,’” says Pucillo. “It’s a joke, but it creates a built-in mechanism to say: ‘I’m not gay. I’m too manly to be gay. I’m too tough to be gay.’”
Pucilli admits there was a part of him that felt, “people outside wrestling call it a ‘gay sport’ and look at me, I’m the gay guy. They were right.”
That mentality forced him deeper into the closet while in school. “I was mentally exhausted from [it],” he admits. “I hate to say [I wasn’t] happy, because I was happy, but there was just an aspect of my life that was missing.”
It also kept Pucillo from pursuing a career in coaching. He spent just one year as an assistant coach with the Buckeyes before leaving in 2011.
“I was more worried about if we were going to recruit a kid … and they know,” he said. “Are their parents going to want their son to be at a school where one of the coaches is gay?” He’s also heard coaches say, “If I ever had a gay kid on the team… it’s not like we could kick him off the team, but we would do whatever we could to basically [run them off].”
By coming out now, he says, “I want people to know that you aren’t alone. If I can just help one person get through, then I will be happy.”
Photos: Jim Davidson/The Ozone.net