Aug. 16, 2013 at 10:11 AM ET
For a man whose entire professional life is scripted, the WWE's Darren Young (real name: Fred Rosser) went decidedly off script on Wednesday night when he made an impromptu public announcement that he is gay.
Confronted by a TMZ cameraman at the Los Angeles International airport, Young made the announcement, making him the first openly gay active WWE wrestler.
“Why not? I felt like it was the right place and the right time,’’ Young told Matt Lauer on TODAY Friday. “I feel by coming out I’m going to make a big difference in a lot of people’s lives. I’ve been suppressing these feelings for so long in my life — I’m going to be 30 on Nov. 2 — and I just need to be happy. Until the day I’m six feet under I will always say I want to be happy, and I’m happy now.’’
In a year in which Jason Collins has come out as the first openly gay player in the NBA and Orlando Cruz emerged as the first openly gay boxer, Young is the latest athlete in a high-profile organization to come out.
When the TMZ cameraman asked if a gay WWE wrestler could be successful, Young said, "absolutely. Look at me, you know. I'm a WWE superstar and to be honest with you, I'll tell you right now, I'm gay. And I'm happy. I'm very happy.”
While Young appears at ease on camera in the TMZ report, he admitted Friday that he worried that someone else would out him if he didn’t take control of the announcement.
“I’ll be honest with you, I was terrified, and I think anybody in my shoes would feel the same way,’’ he said on TODAY. “It took some guts.”
Following Young's announcement, his colleagues in the WWE expressed overwhelming support.
Young said he also spoke with Collins, who announced his homosexuality in a cover story in Sports Illustrated in May, on Thursday night.
“He actually gave me some advice on how to handle this whole situation and how to cope with it and how to be positive and be a strong individual,’’ Young said.
From the Supreme Court's ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional in June to the recent backlash against Russia’s new anti-gay laws in advance of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, gay rights have made consistent headlines this year. Young has not appeared in a live event since his announcement, but is eager to get back in the ring and inspire others.
“I will probably get a mixed reaction, maybe some good, some bad, but at the end of the day I want to be able to be a role model,’’ he said. “I want to be a role model to people that are afraid to come out. I want to be able to speak at different functions and educate and tell my story because my story goes further than being gay.
“As a young child, I had a speech impediment, a stuttering problem, I got bullied, I got picked on, but that didn’t stop me from becoming a WWE superstar. I got the help I needed. I had a speech pathologist help me out, and I’m living the dream now.”
Young referenced a romantic relationship outside the ring.
“I have the best of both worlds,’’ he said. “I’m in love, and I wrestle for one of the greatest organizations in the world, the WWE, and I’m a lucky man.”