Chip Sarafin: You can be an athlete and be whoever you are

Something that the Arizona State football team has known for around 18 months is now known by the nation as of Wednesday. A report announced that Sun Devil Senior Offensive Lineman Chip Sarafin is the only active openly gay player in college football.

The news initially spread like wildfire around the media landscape for both news and sports alike, but nothing changed in the eyes of the ASU team while they began day two at Camp Tontozona

“At first, I didn’t think it would blow up as much as it did,” Sarafin told the media after practice on Thursday. “It was definitely very interesting in that regard how all that developed. But it is good to see that there are a lot of people out there that are positive about it.”

There is a notion out there that having an openly gay player in a sport like football could be a distraction. Clearly it wasn’t in 2013 as the entire team knew about this with Sarafin and went on to win the Pac-12 South and appear in the Pac-12 Championship game. ASU Head Coach Todd Graham notes that this being any sort of distraction is nothing close to being the case.

“That distraction stuff is for everybody else,” Graham said. “We’re a family. Our program is based on values and really, old school values. What I mean by that is relationships built on respect. And discipline is produced from that, trust is produced from that. So it is not something that is a surprise for us and it won’t be a distraction.”

Sarafin states that there has never been a problem with a teammate and all members of the team over the last year have been supportive.

“We are a brotherhood and that’s really the only way you can say it,” Sarafin mentioned. “A brother won’t let another brother down. A brother won’t disrespect another brother. So we are all here to support each other.”

Over the summer, Michael Sam, the former Missouri Tiger football player and now member of the St. Louis Rams, came out before the NFL Combine and is now the first openly gay player in professional football. While Sarafin has a lot of respect for Sam, it was not the reason for the release of this news.

“Michael Sam I think is doing a lot of great things, especially with his role in the media,” Sarafin said. “It wasn’t like a direct influence for me. Obviously he has paved the way for a lot of athletes and I am just trying to help too.”

The sexual orientation of Sarafin is a major part of his life. But what also defines him as a person is he is an exceptional student who graduated from ASU as an undergrad last spring with a degree in biomedical engineering, and is currently in his pursuit of a master’s in the same field. His research involves football-related concussions, and he has been involved often in the community with both youth sports in Arizona as well as with the Tillman Scholars. He has been a member of this football team going into his fifth year who has but in the work with his teammates in the trenches on the practice field and is a local product out of Highland High School

“Athletes should be themselves no matter what they are,” Sarafin explained. “Orientation, race, religion, anything. You can be an athlete and be whoever you are.”

“We all come from different walks of life and I think that’s what makes us great is the diversity in talents and the diversity in who we are what we are all about,” Graham stated. “But we can all come together when it comes to this heart right here. These kids have their heart right.”