Saieed Rihan is an average student. He comes from a town called Escondido, just north of San Diego. He enjoys hiking around San Luis Obispo. He is a kinesiology senior with little idea of what he wants to do after graduation.
Saieed Rihan is a different kind of student. He can run four miles in a little more than 21 minutes. He is the treasurer of the Cal Poly Distance Club.
And he is gay.
Rihan is part of a growing number of athletes comfortable enough to make their homosexuality public. This groupâs recent notable addition is United States men’s national soccer team forward Robbie Rogers, who came out Feb. 15. Rogers, who had been playing for Stevenage in English soccer’s third-tier league, announced in a public statement that he would be stepping away from professional soccer in the near term.
Rihan knew he was gay when attending Escondido High School, but remained closeted out of fear. Escondido did not feel like a welcoming community to him, and Rihan was worried about becoming a social outcast.
When Rihan began running for Palomar Community College, he broke away from high school drama. He bonded with many of the other cross country runners, including Cameron Avilez.
Avilez was one of Rihanâs best friends, but held a grudge against gays because his father received catcalls from homosexuals while running in San Francisco. Like the rest of the world, he had no idea Rihan was gay.
One day, Rihan turned to Avilez while out on a run and asked, âYou want to know what really sucks?â
âWhat?â Avilez responded.
âWanting to tell you that Iâm gay, but not knowing how youâll react.”
Avilez showed little reaction. After practice, Rihan decided to tell a few more teammates. Again, it didnât really seem to sink in.
At the end of the next practice, Rihan noticed other runners would stop talking when he approached. As Rihan turned to leave, Avilez came racing out of the shower.
Avilez asked if Rihan had been serious about his sexuality. Rihan said yes, he was tired of hiding and had no idea what would happen next.
âHe was like, âAll right, thatâs cool. Everythingâs still the same with us. It doesnât matter,ââ Rihan said. âThat was a big relief for me, just him saying that.â
When Rihan transferred to Cal Poly, he was open with everyone on the club team, and has again received nearly universal support. The only negative reaction has come from his mother, whose Muslim faith looks down on homosexuality.
Teammates would probably be just as welcoming if Rihan was a gay athlete on one of Cal Polyâs Division I teams, he said.
Even after Rogersâ announcement, the four biggest sports in America â baseball, basketball, football and hockey â are still waiting for an active athlete to come out.
â(When an active player comes out), I think itâs going to be huge in the sports world,â Rihan said. âItâs going to be getting a lot of attention.Â If their teammates are supportive, that could be a big help.â
Between those four sports, there are approximately 3,500 professional athletes. It would be downright foolish to assume there are no active gay players.
Some athletes, such as basketball player John Amaechi and cornerback Wade Davis, made their homosexuality public after retirement. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Davis mentioned three players he knew who came out to teammates.
âMaybe all the media attention, they donât want to deal with that,â Rihan said. âIt just seems easier to try and fit in and everything, but âŠ then young LGBT people who do like sports donât have a role model to look up to.â
Cal Poly boasts 19 Division I sports teams and 554 student-athletes. Though Rihan does not know any other gay athletes, he is sure there must be others.
âOh, definitely,” Rihan said. “I mean, with how many athletes we have, thereâs at least one. There are straight-acting people who are (gay), itâs just their preference (to act straight). I know there has to be at least one, chances are more.â
Senior midfielder Chris Fisher is the captain of the menâs soccer team and said he would be fine with a gay teammate. The teamâs bond is far more important than a playerâs sexuality, he said.
âWeâre all really close, and I donât think it would change anything,â Fisher said. âItâs kind of more something personal for them, it doesnât affect the team. If it bothers another person, thatâs their own problem.â
If a gay athlete came out at Cal Poly today, he or she would likely receive strong support from most if not all teammates, Fisher said.
âI canât imagine who they liked would ever be a problem,â he said. âI donât think it would change a thing at all, actually.â