The fuss over who will be the first openly gay male U.S. professional athlete may take an unexpected turn this year as a little-known standout college team kicker from Florida, who happens to be gay, is eying his shot at the majors.
Alan Gendreau made a name for himself as Middle Tennessee State's kicker, finishing a record-breaking career in 2012 as the all-time leading scorer in Sun Belt Conference history with 295 points. Now Gendreau's quest to take his football career to the next level as an NFL kicker is becoming part of the larger picture of the acceptance of gay men in American sports.
"The whole culture has shifted. Sports are way behind," Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports.com, told ABCNews.com. "But the NFL is about winning. It's not about whether you're gay or straight."
Zeigler, who featured Gendreau in an exclusive article and video released on his site Tuesday, originally spoke with the star athlete during his freshman year at MTSU, when he anonymously discussed being a lone out gay member on a college team. The then-teenage kicker was worried at the time about how his sexuality could hurt his chances of getting into the NFL. Zeigler said there was a risk that coming out publicly would be chancy. But that was then.
"Now, today, I can say yes, this is not going to hurt his chances," Zeigler said. "If some person doesn't like it that much, another person will like him because of it."
Many thought for years that the first out pro player would be a familiar name. Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, an outspoken supporter of gay rights, even said earlier this month that "there are up to four players being talked to right now and they're trying to be organized so they can come out on the same day together."
Gendreau grew up in Apopka, Fla. and came out as gay to his friends and family at 16. A devout Christian who says he keeps a Bible by his bed, he told Outsports.com that he was sent to church-based counseling by his parents, but that it only lasted four sessions. He knew who he was. He says he still regularly attends church on Sunday. The 23-year-old is about a month away from being in peak shape for a tryout.
"Right now, looking back when I'm 40, I can't say I gave it my best shot," Gendreau told Outsports.com. "I can't say I really tried to make it into the NFL. Last year I did it half-assed. If I don't give it everything I have now, I'll regret it for the rest of my life."
Now, as he trains vigorously for his shot at the majors, Gendreau, whose rough senior season only saw a 60 percent connection on field goal attempts, and left him undrafted, is focusing on his opportunity to launch a career. Being a role model may have to follow that.
"He has a real opportunity to break through, and he's going to do that by being a huge success on the field," his representative Howard Bragman told ABCNews.com.
Bragman said Gendreau's sexuality is not what defines him.
"Alan would love nothing more than to play in the NFL, and he would tell you that his sexuality is something he's proud of, as much as anyone is proud of their sexuality," Bragman said. "He defines himself as a good man, a Christian, an athlete. He has a lot of ways he defines himself. He's a well-rounded guy who happens to be gay."
Not that Gendreau is naïve about the attention he is receiving, and the role he would play as the first openly gay player, according to Bragman. But his focus is on getting there.