(NEW YORK) -- In an industry marked by masculine moves and high drama, another professional athlete has come out of the closet. Wrestling superstar Darren Young, whose real name is Fred Rosser, went public for the first time Wednesday when confronted by TMZ at Los Angeles International Airport to comfortably and casually state he’s gay.
When paparazzi peppered him with questions about whether a gay wrestler could survive among the ranks of the hypermasculine, he replied, “Absolutely -- look at me -- 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.”
Young has said that as a boy he’d had a speech impediment and had been teased in school. The wrestler has been involved in the WWE Be a Star anti-bullying campaign to help young people.
LGBT advocates hailed his announcement, particularly for the traditional fan base that supports WWE wrestling.
“All of us understand that he has a very different audience -- it couldn’t be more macho, more male and more middle America,” said Bob Witeck, a Washington, D.C.-based marketing expert who specializes in LGBT issues. “In that sense he is going to be judged again by the quality of his performance and not who he loves. It’s a game-changer.”
WWE Chairman Vince McMahon also expressed support. In a statement released Thursday, he said the organization was “proud” of Young for being open about his sexuality.
The wrestler also got the support of Jason Collins, the NBA veteran who came out in a May 6 Sports Illustrated cover story. “I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.”
“I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport,” said Collins. “But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, ‘I’m different.’ If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”
Young’s announcement comes on the heels of American protests over Russia’s new anti-gay law, and the possible impact it may have on the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
American runner Nick Symmonds became the first foreign athlete to speak out. “I disagree with their laws and I disagree with their views,” he told ABC News.
Symmonds said he would like to wear a rainbow flag pin during competitions to show his support for gay rights in Russia and around the world.
The law has sparked outrage overseas, including calls to boycott Russian products like vodka. Others have even called for a boycott of the Sochi games themselves.
“More and more there is a movement,” said Witeck. “With the Russia issue, it’s emerging that a lot of Olympic quality competitors are coming out, changing the idea of their identity. And allies want to tell the world they are allies.”
As for Young’s move, Witeck said, it may signal athletes in more traditionally conservative sports to come out, “for example NASCAR.”
“People learn to love and accept the person they know,” he said. “He’s going to change the hearts and minds of his audience and his competitors.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio