When Swiss professional volleyball player Dennis Del Valle revealed he was gay in an interview with the French language 24 Heures, the Puerto Rican native thought he was doing it for himself. But, after the outpouring of thanks and encouragement he received following the announcement he realizes his act meant something more to a lot of people.
"While I thought I was doing something nice and special for myself," Del Valle wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. "I didn't realize how much more I was doing for others like me."
Del Valle and his two-time defending champion teammates for Lucerne were on the way to a potential third straight Swiss Cup Final before the coronavirus hit. Sitting at home, he realized he could no longer stay in the closet.
"There must be a lot of young sportsmen that [live] hidden .n Switzerland and in other countriesm" said Del Valle in a translation of the 24 Heures article that he posted to Facebook. "At my stage, I succeeded in my career being gay. I hope they'll tell themselves: 'Why not me?' Maybe [then] I will be able to change someone's life. My speech could make someone [have] more confidence, to feel safe, to not stop sports being afraid of the path."
If Del Valle has any regrets, it's that he didn't tell his teammates earlier.
"I should have felt comfortable enough to come out in the locker-room," he confessed to 24 Heures. "This person came to me and asked me the question straight. I was totally ready to speak about that. Even more that it was someone that I consider close to myself. I should have taken the chance to speak about it to the rest of the team."
It's been a long and lonely process for Del Valle. He considers himself fortunate he never felt suicidal or terribly depressed like many do when coming to terms with their sexuality, but there were plenty of times he felt ashamed and unable to face himself in the mirror.
Things are looking up since those dark days. Coming out of the closet has empowered Del Valle to embrace himself and help others. Always the consummate teammate, Del Valle's greatest concern at the time was how his announcement would impact the team.
"But I mainly didn't want to break the chemistry of the team, that it becomes awkward in the locker for some people, that they start to imagines stuff, only thinks about my homosexuality, don't want to come in the shower because of me, or I don't know what," he told 24 Heures. "When I go to the gym, I go there to work. It is my priority. I'm not here to check out guys or flirt."
As it turns out, the response has been positive. Del Valle found that his friends and family accepted him and just wanted him to enjoy his life and prosper.
"I was relieved that my people accepted me. In the end, they just wanted me to be happy, that I can be myself."