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Kennedy McDowell carves path for LGBTQIA+ athletes in stalwart fashion

Photo+courtesy+of+CSU+Athletics+
Photo courtesy of CSU Athletics

For Kennedy McDowell on the Colorado State football team, his experience of being openly gay and playing Division I football has been nothing but a story of acceptance by the team.

“Whatever you think he can achieve or he can’t, he always goes above and beyond that, Kennedy — he’s a dog man. Flat out a dog.” – Buddha Williams, defensive line coach.

McDowell is a first-year football player for the Rams and is one of the few openly gay athletes who have played DI football. 

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“When you step into the facility, I know it’s a bit of a culture shock for some people who have never been around that, but when you throw the green and gold on, you’re one of us,” defensive lineman Grady Kelly said. “I don’t care if you’re Black, white, gay, anything. You’re now a teammate and a family member of the Rams, and it takes a lot of confidence for him to (be openly gay), and we welcome him as a football player.”

McDowell came out prior to signing with CSU and had a difficult experience when receiving offers from schools because of that. He said there were schools that turned the other way because of who he was. 

“It was harder just in the recruiting process in general,” McDowell said. “Some colleges really didn’t want me because of who I was. But Colorado State did, and coach (Jay) Norvell saw who I was and knew who I was. Same with the coaching staff (who) decided to accept me for who I am, as well (as) to play football here. And I was very, very fortunate to have this offer for sure.”

While other schools might have decided not to offer McDowell because he is gay, CSU accepted him with open arms, and he has done nothing but flash talent and perseverance on and off the field.

McDowell hasn’t seen the field a lot this year outside of playing on special teams. However, defensive line coach Buddha Williams maintains the belief that the first-year will be a crucial piece for the Rams going forward.

“Kennedy is unbelievable as a person (and) as a player,” Williams said. “He brings a lot of energy, (he’s) extremely athletic (and a) hard worker. That’s who he is; he’s getting better every day.”

While McDowell sustained what seemed like an incredibly serious injury in the Rams’ game against Boise State, he is well on his way to recovering. 

He will be an important piece for the Rams’ pass rush moving forward — a unit that has looked like the pinnacle of Mountain West play this season. 

“My main focus is getting my weight up,” McDowell said. “So then I can actually start playing a lot more than what I am right now. And y’all will see me next year for sure.”

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Getting his weight up and putting on the muscle required to be a great pass rusher will be a big step for McDowell. 

Right now, McDowell slots in at 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighs 230 pounds. Horton Barbell, a strength and conditioning coach and sports scientist, said the average weight of an NCAA defensive end is 258 pounds. While there is a lot of work to do, McDowell has been more than willing to do his part to make that happen. 

“He is always exceeding expectations,” Williams said. “Whatever you think he can achieve or he can’t, he always goes above and beyond that, Kennedy — he’s a dog man. Flat out a dog.”

While McDowell is well on his way to becoming a key piece for CSU’s defense, he has faced his fair share of challenges when it comes to his sexuality. 

While recently there has been a big push toward being more accepting of everyone, especially people in the LGBTQIA+ community, there is no doubt there is still work to be done. 

“It’s definitely been interesting,” McDowell said. “I would say it was worse in middle school, it was pretty bad in high school and it’s, like, nothing in college. I’ve not experienced a single thing in college yet. I feel like it’s because we don’t have enough time to talk crap on the field; we’re just so busy playing. But in high school, I would experience a lot of slurs, but it’s nothing I couldn’t really handle.”

Being so busy on the field is part of it, but the embrace of McDowell also comes from the team. 

McDowell joined the team early for spring camp, arriving to the team in January. The early development has been key to him not only making significant progress but realizing he found a true home at CSU. 

“He’s definitely taking it on really well,” Kelly said. “Better than, I’d say, most freshmen probably do, especially coming in a semester early in the spring helps out a lot because the biggest change is just the speed of the game.”

With McDowell coming to CSU for spring ball, he’s had a lot of time to adjust to the team and become a Ram. 

Because of that early introduction to the team, McDowell has truly found a home.

“I would say (the support) was absolutely amazing,” McDowell said. “At first, when I got here in January, I was very, very nervous. I was extremely nervous, so I kind of toned it down a little bit, but then everybody already knew. I got more and more comfortable with them, and they got more comfortable with me. It’s honestly a learning process for not just them but for me too. Being around guys like that, I learned to be tough-skinned and tough-minded as well. I can take a joke. And them being around me, I feel like they learn a lot about inclusivity and equality and things like that. I feel like it’s just a good support system. It really is.”

It is no doubt that McDowell has a plethora of experience when it comes to navigating football at a collegiate level and embracing his sexuality. 

With his unique experiences and perspective, McDowell has advice for anyone who might be an athlete in the LGBTQIA+ community. 

“It sounds cliche to say it, but (not) being yourself is going to do more harm to you than it will to somebody else,” McDowell said. “If people are ever worried about ‘me being myself is going to harm other people,’ well, it’s going to harm you before it harms other people. And if you can’t be yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?”

Reach Damon Cook at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @dwcook2001.

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About the Contributor
Damon Cook, Sports Editor
Damon Cook is the 2023-24 sports editor for the The Collegian and has been at the paper since August 2022. He started doing coverage on volleyball and club sports before moving onto the women's basketball beat. He is in his third year and is completing his degree with a major in journalism and media communication and a minor in sports management. As The Collegian's sports editor, Cook reports on CSU sports and helps manage the sports desk and content throughout the week. After having a year to learn and improve, Cook will now get to be part of a new age under the sports desk. The desk moved on from all but one other person and will now enter into a new era. Damon started school as a construction management major looking to go in a completely different direction than journalism. After taking the year off during the COVID-19 pandemic, he quickly realized that construction wasn't for him. With sports and writing as passions, he finally decided to chase his dreams, with The Collegian helping him achieve that. He is most excited to bring the best and most in-depth sports coverage that The Collegian can provide.

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