Matt Kaplon’s courageous decision gets national attention.

Senior and Team Capt. Matt Kaplon's announcement has gotten widespread support from the Drew community
Team Capt. Matt Kaplon’s announcement has gotten widespread support from the Drew community, including Head Coach Brian Hirschberg (in blue).

Matt Kaplon is a senior majoring in political science and minoring in economics. He is the catcher and captain of the baseball team and had a .379 batting average last season. He’s also a gay athlete.

Kaplon, who came out to his family over winter break, spoke privately with Coach Brian Hirschberg in February and disclosed his sexual orientation, then decided he wanted to share the news with his teammates. He said he felt confident after talking with his coach, “I was just thankful to have his support no matter what decision I made.”

“You kind of just get to a point where you’re sick and tired of hiding,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine going through any more time without people knowing who I really am.”

Kaplon, who drew support from OutSports.com, a website about gay athletes that has profiled college football players Conner Mertens and Michael Sam; spoke to his teammates as they prepared to do community service on Sunday, Feb. 23.

After he told them he was gay, they applauded him, high-fived him and one teammate told him it was the manliest thing he’d seen. Then, the baseball players stuffed pencil cases for underprivileged children and went to practice on Monday night.

When OutSports.com published its story about Kaplon on Monday afternoon, the 21-year-old senior from Palisades Park had no idea that he would become famous. He got more than 800 new Twitter followers, the story was retweeted and picked up by websites and news outlets across the country. U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) applauded his courage. Television and radio stations began calling him for interviews.

He said he knew being a gay athlete can feel very isolating and thought if he shared his story, it could help other athletes in the same situation, “I wanted to try and help other people with their struggle.”

In high school and college, he said he’s heard gay slurs used in conversation, mostly by people “who didn’t really mean anything by it.” But he said, for him, it became different, “All of those words and stuff, you hear them and they do mean something to you. It’s not OK.”

His actions drew widespread praise from other students, alumni, GLBT organizations and others who heard about his story.

“Matt has been a leader both on and off the field for us for the past three and a half years. I applaud his courage and honesty,” said Athletic Director Jason Fein. “It’s been a pleasure having him and his family as part of the Drew University Athletics family, and we are all proud of Matt and happy that he feels comfortable enough to be himself around his teammates, classmates and the rest of the Drew community.”

Kaplon said he’s always felt comfortable on the Drew campus and believes the university is a supportive and tolerant environment. “I kind of knew when I got to Drew, it was a very accepting and open community.”

“At Drew University we support all students and seek to promote an atmosphere of acceptance,” said President Vivian A. Bull. “Drew applauds his courage and hopes his honesty will help all of us deepen our understanding of those around us.”

At Drew, there are counseling services available for any students who need it, and student clubs centered around GLBT issues for undergraduates and graduate students, said Frank Merckx, dean of campus life and student affairs.

Kaplon said now that his announcement is over, he wants to focus on other things—including getting the Division III Rangers to win the Landmark Conference this spring.

For other gay athletes, who may be struggling with telling friends or teammates, Kaplon has this advice, “Be true to yourself. It’s OK to have your life. Be the person you’ve always dreamed of. People are more accepting than you think they are.”—Liz Moore