Get to know Trey Cunningham, the American track star who just came out

Get to know Trey Cunningham, the American track star who just came out

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Trey Cunningham is no longer jumping over the truth. The champion American track star publicly came out as gay Monday, making him one of the highest profile out male athletes in the U.S.

The 11th-ranked high hurdler in the world, Cunningham shared his story with the New York Times.

“We say our goals out loud,” he told journalist Rory Smith. “If there’s something we want to achieve, we say it. Putting something in words makes it real.”

Born in Winfield, Ala., Cunningham describes his hometown as “rural, quite conservative, quite religious: the sort of place where you did not want to be the gay kid at school.” Bereft of out role models, Cunningham didn’t think about his orientation as a high school student. Like many LGBTQ+ folx, his first moments of self-discovery arrived in college.

Attending school at Florida State, Cunningham says it took him a couple of years to figure out his identity. Now 25, he came out to his friends and family when he was 20.

Cunningham says the conversation with his parents was the most difficult. “They had certain expectations for their little boy, for what his life would be like, and that’s OK,” he said. “I gave them a five-year grace period. I had to take my time. They could take theirs, too.”

Over the ensuing half-decade, Cunningham established himself as one of the best hurdlers in the world. He won the silver medal in the 110 meters at the world championships in 2022 and the NCAA outdoor championships in the 60 meters and 100 meters. Along the way, he was honored with the Bowerman Award (track and field’s version of the Heisman trophy), and named the 2022 Track and Field News National Athlete of the Year, as well as the 2022 ACC Men’s Outdoor Track Performer of the Year.

As Outsports mentions, sportswriters in Cunningham’s native Alabama named him Amateur Athlete of the Year in 2022, beating out star Alabama QB Bryce Young (no small feat)!

Out in his private life, Cunningham’s identity wasn’t a secret in the world of track and field. Multiple out Olympians, including sprinter Ramsey Angela and rower Robbie Manson, follow him on social media.

But since he wasn’t out publicly, he felt uneasy using his platform to advocate for LGBTQ+ causes. Cunningham found himself residing in a middle ground: free to be himself, but only in certain spaces.

“There are lots of people who are in this weird space,” he said. “They’re not out. But it is kind of understood.”

Prior to the NYT article, Outsports received a note from a publicist about Cunningham’s anticipated coming out, demonstrating the line he was straddling.

But now, Cunningham is completely out in the open. There will be at least three athletes representing Team USA in track and field at the Paris Games: sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, shot putter Raven Saunders and distance runner Nico Young.

Cunningham competed with all of them at the U.S. Olympic trials last month. He says he’s found a supportive reception in track and field, which he calls a “sport for misfits.”

While competitions are true markers of athletic prowess–measuring who can run the fastest, jump the highest or throw the farthest–each event requires a highly specialized skillset. “Track and field has something for everyone,” he said.

As an out male athlete, Cunningham knows he’s still an exception. He understands he will have to consult his management before undergoing certain endeavors, such as competing in a country like Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.

Unlike gay athletes of yesteryear, Cunningham doesn’t feel like he was previously living a lie. The people in his life knew. For a long time, that’s all he needed.

But Cunningham knows there’s value in publicly sharing his story. As a Ford Model, it’s fair to say he has a face (and booty) for the camera.

We are living in different times. Though gay athletes were previously shunned commercially, they’re now raking in endorsement dollars, all while embracing their queerness. Look no further than the out stars for Team USA in track and field. Richardson and Saunders are Nike athletes, and Young recently signed a deal with Adidas.

Cunningham is already a household name in track and field, and his celebrity should only grow from here. We’re proud to be on the ground floor, watching with joy as Cunningham rises above every potential hurdle in his path!

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