Video courtesy of OutSports
An offensive lineman’s job is largely anonymous — clearing a path for a running back or giving the quarterback enough time to zip a pass downfield. When linemen are praised, they’re praised as a unit. When a lineman is called out by name, it’s often because he was caught holding or forgot the snap count. As Princeton tackle Mason Darrow ’17 puts it, “I’m used to not really getting mentioned, unless I screw up royally.”
That changed dramatically on Sept. 15, the day before the start of fall classes, when Darrow publicly came out as gay in a story published by Outsports, an online magazine that covers LGBT issues in athletics. Suddenly, he was the most recognizable person on a roster of 120.
Darrow was flooded with supportive emails and messages from Princeton football alumni, University administrators, old friends, and complete strangers. Nearly 27,000 readers shared the story on Facebook in one week — enough people to fill Princeton Stadium. The news spread to the Associated Press, ESPN.com, The New York Times, and scores of other media outlets. “It’s definitely been a strange experience,” Darrow says, “but for sure a positive one.”
While Darrow’s story made headlines nationally, it wasn’t news in the Tigers’ locker room. He had started coming out to teammates two years ago, during his freshman year — an experience that in many ways made the Outsports feature possible. “It was definitely a lot scarier coming out to friends and family because there is that face-to-face contact, and you see the initial reaction,” Darrow says. But his team was so supportive — “better than I ever could have imagined” — that it gave him the confidence to consider sharing his story beyond the campus.
Darrow also drew inspiration from other gay athletes, including Michael Sam, a star linebacker at Missouri who was drafted by the NFL’s St. Louis Rams; Chip Sarafin, a former offensive lineman at Arizona State; and Konrad Eiring, a runner at Darrow’s high school in Barrington, Ill.
Now the once-anonymous tackle has his own opportunities to inspire. This year, Darrow is the president of Princeton’s chapter of Athlete Ally, an advocacy and support group for LGBT athletes on campus. But his greatest platform may be on the field each Saturday, where the 6-foot-5-inch, 285-pound junior stands tall in opposition to long-held stereotypes of what it means to be a football player.