Landon Foster didn’t have time to think about the wave of reactions sure to come from making his personal story quite public.
He was on a deadline.
“That was a busy day,” he said of Wednesday. “I was looking at a lot of comparable farm properties in Arkansas.”
Foster is many things: a former punter at Kentucky, a soon-to-be graduate student in finance at Vanderbilt, a gay man who just came out on a national platform.
And an intern for LandFund Partners. It was his role there that kept him from being able to obsess too much about also being the gay man who had just come out via an article at Outsports.
Foster, a longtime starter at Kentucky, penned the article in which he discussed the difficulties of being a gay athlete in the closet, of worrying that his sexuality might hurt his future career prospects, especially his dream of playing professional sports.
He worried about the backlash a little.
He worried about what some former teammates might think of him, but he felt lucky to be distracted by comparable farm properties in Arkansas, a project that had to be finished on the same day the story posted.
“Sometimes in seeing the reactions to those types of stories, ignorance can be bliss,” he laughed. “Luckily that hasn’t been the case thus far. It wasn’t the easiest thing to put in the silo.”
When he unearthed himself from the comparable farm properties that day, Foster was greeted by hundreds of messages from friends, family, teammates and strangers.
“It’s pretty reassuring and affirming that there is a lot of support out there for anyone going through this,” he told the Herald-Leader in an interview on Thursday afternoon.
Some of the more notable outreach this week came from the national Human Rights Campaign on Twitter and from Kentucky President Eli Capilouto.
“I didn’t expect anything less from him,” Foster said of the top UK administrator. “He’s a great leader to look up to and he’s done an exceptional job at Kentucky.”
Foster discussed his plans with UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart about eight months prior to the article’s release. His longtime mentor was supportive of his efforts.
Foster braced for the worst, but got the best.
“I expected different responses, responses from all across the board,” he said, noting that he’s seen a few. “There hasn’t been as many negative responses as I thought there might be.”
A bad punt in a game at Kentucky spurred more negativity on social media than this has.
“That’s been really surprising. A 36-yard punt gets me 10 F-bombs on Twitter, but I only got like one or two on this,” he said.
'It takes a toll on you'
Foster has had some variation of this personal narrative written since later in his senior season, but the timing never seemed right to come out.
He saw the media frenzy around the story of Michael Sam, a gay defensive end at Missouri who came out in 2014, and then the microscope hovering over Sam’s short NFL tenure.
Foster worried about what that would mean for him and his dream of becoming an NFL punter.
“So it was like: I can continue to pursue this dream of playing professionally and not come out or I could pursue a personally fulfilling life and look at other careers,” he said.
“It seemed like at that point, it had to be an either/or.”
That summer the marriage equality act became law, but it was coupled with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis denying marriage licenses to gay couples just a couple of hours from his safe haven on UK’s campus.
The last thing the punter wanted to do was become a national distraction for a UK team trying desperately to get into a bowl game.
There was a weight on his shoulders his senior season.
“You start performing poorly and it keeps going,” he continued. “You’re in the middle of the season and you’re going through the (personal) hell. …
“I was trying to do my best at the time and completely put everything in a separate silo mentally, but it takes a toll on you.”
Which brings Foster back to the why.
Why now when he could have comfortably gone on with his life as a gay man getting a master’s degree in finance at Vanderbilt pointing toward a future in investment banking?
The “why” for Foster has more layers than an onion.
The 24-year-old wants to lead an authentic life. He wants to show people that college athletes are just young people battling more than just opponents on the field.
He wants to help others and says that “just kicking a ball, that doesn’t make the world better.”
The former punter wanted to make it less difficult for the next guy holding onto an overwhelming secret.
“That’s the only reason I did the story, to hopefully make it easier,” Foster said. “I know I suffered through a lot and I know there’s a need and a gap there.”
One day personal stories of football players coming out won’t be news. It’s a day that Foster hopes happens in his lifetime.
“It probably shouldn’t matter — probably shouldn’t be a story — but until more people continue to make it commonplace, it’s going to be a story,” he said.
“Without a substantial amount of role models and substantial amount of people making it common place, it will continue to be a story. I wanted to do my part.”