Northern New Jersey native makes his mark on the wrestling world
It’s not often in athletic communities that you hear about openly gay men. More often than not, we just wish there were more openly gay men. Why? For some, fantasy. Hey, that’s fine. For others, we want allies and our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to stand up and represent our communities and break down those hetero stereotypes society has built up.
Well, for any wrestling fans out there, Fred Rosser is a handsome, 6’1”, tall drink of water. Back in 2013, in an empty airport, Fred Rosser, best known as Darren Young, had the courage to tell the world about his sexuality. You can look up the special moment on TMZ’s YouTube page. It’s Pride season and we’re proud of you, Fred!
According to your bio, wrestling has been a part of your DNA forever. Tell us, what or who inspired you?
Fred Rosser: I saw my dad watching wrestling on television one day, and from then on, I was hooked. My dad would always take me to wrestling shows at Meadowlands Arena in NJ, or high school gymnasium shows to watch WWF (now WWE) wrestlers perform. It was nothing I’d ever seen before; it just amazed me. I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be a professional wrestler. I was so excited about it. Watching wrestling with my dad are memories I will never forget. Those were the days.
Tell us a little bit more about your journey. Your history as a wrestler is rich with achievements; did you think you’d be where you are today?
FS: I grew up with laser-like focus in wanting to be a WWE Superstar. I always saw myself as a WWE Superstar someday, and I even wrote it in my high school year book. “WWF, here I come!” I didn’t know when it would happen, but I knew it would. So, I started training to become a professional wrestler out of high school and college in the fall of 2002. I researched a number of wrestling schools before deciding on Camp IWF in West Paterson, New Jersey. And I used $2,000 of my scholarship money to enroll and didn’t tell my parents until about a year into my training. They had no idea. I was always the first one at the wrestling school, and the last one to leave training. Then I would train 4 days a week. I caught on very quickly to the whole wrestling game and, by the end of 2002, I made my professional debut.
I spent several years on the independent circuit grinding it out, traveling and making a name for myself in the Northeast area. And I did a plethora of tryouts for WWE during that time, having the door shut in my face so many times until my last tryout in Tampa, Florida. On May 4th, 2009, I paid to try out and, out of 75 guys and girls from all over the world, I beat them all. I earned my contract with WWE and signed with the company.
A few years ago, you came out as gay and WWE seemed to be really supportive, how do you feel this changed your career?
FS: Once I came out publicly, I became more than just a WWE superstar; I became a role a model for other LGBTQ athletes, paving a way for them to follow. One of the best pieces of advice I give to our youth or anyone who may get bullied into silence is to come out when you feel comfortable. At the end of the day, make sure you come out because when you do, it’s truly the best feeling in the world, and a heavy weight of rejection is slowly lifted.
There are many moments that stand out to me, particularly when I came out in 2013. CM Punk, after his SummerSlam match with Brock Lesnar, came up to me, iced up from head to toe, told me to stand up and gave me a hug. He said, “I heard your story and I’m very proud of you for being so courageous to make that move to come out. If anyone has a problem with it in the locker room, you let me know, and I’ll take care of it.”
The love from my supporters made it much easier to walk into a locker room without fear; knowing that people had my back meant the world to me. I’ll never forget how much love those guys showed me. Drew McIntyre, who wrestled Roman Reigns, said, “History in our business will remember Darren Young (Fred Rosser) as a pioneer with the courage to say proudly, ‘This is who I am’ and he’s one hell of a talent and a man.”
As a pro wrestler in a career that, to me, has always seemed very … heteronormative … what challenges do you face in your field?
FS: The biggest challenge I faced was accepting myself and learning how to stop feeling ashamed of who I am. I don’t know what else I would be if I wasn’t just simply, me. I see nothing to regret, and little to correct because what you see is what you get, as far as I’m concerned. It’s important to me that we have more LGBTQ representation in sports and beyond. We need more “out” athletes. I want people to see me on the big screen or on social media who identify with me and say, “If he can do it, then so can I.” Word on the street is Marvel is ready for its first gay superhero. Let me just tell you, not to toot my own horn, but there’s absolutely nobody that represents the community inside the ring and outside of the ring more than yours truly. I always say I don’t celebrate being gay, I celebrate and encourage others to celebrate themselves — living your life free from hate and free from judgment.
Have you seen people in your community of enthusiasts become more open minded since coming out?
FS: Because of the galvanic effect of my coming out story on the world of wrestling and mainstream entertainment, many wrestlers and non-wrestlers who are allies have praised my work in the ring and outside. My coming out story made it much more comfortable and easier for others to embrace their true self. It gives them hope that they can be successful athletes and represent the LGBTQ community to the fullest. Many have thanked me and said I was the nicest guy they have ever met and consider me a friend.
Let’s talk about Nick. I’ve seen pictures of you both and not many couples are as beautiful! I don’t know if I want to ask you about the secrets to a successful relationship or the secrets to your skin care routine. How did you guys meet?
FS: Nicki and I are no longer together. We are still great friends and he’s doing wonderful overseas in fashion school. We met in Miami in 2012. He still helps me with my style. We’ve learned so much from each other. When it comes to talking about relationships, the one thing I always say is learn how to talk things out. I was always the type of guy who would keep things bottled in, but I learned from Nicki to talk things out. You’ll feel so much better when you do.
In this Pride season, is there anything you’re working on currently to support or celebrate the LGBT community?
FS: Besides the hectic travel of being a professional wrestler, I do lot of speaking engagements for the LGBTQ community and elementary schools around the world sharing my story and promoting my #BLOCKTHEHATE movement. My goal is to inspire others to be comfortable in their own skin. The point of this movement is to show that we all aren’t as different from each other as we think. We all get bullied for one reason or another, but in order to be strong and successful, you must BLOCK THE HATE. I want the BLOCK THE HATE pose, which represents equality for all, to be the next “middle finger” in a positive way.
What encouragement can you give to young athletes who might be struggling to come out?
FS: Being honest with your family is such an important step in getting all parts of your life to fit together. It’s very important to give your family time to process the information when you come out to them. People hesitate to come out because they don’t want to discredit their family name. No one should ever force you to come out. You come out when you’re ready—just make sure you come out! For me, coming out greatly improved my performance as an athlete, and my well-being as a person. Instead of worrying about what others may think of me, I was able to fully own who I am and focus that energy on my wrestling and advocacy work.
How can we keep in touch?
FS: None of us are as strong as all of us. Let’s all continue to inspire and continue to fight for what’s right. I’ll see you at the finish line. Be a part of my social media family on Instagram (@realfredrosser) and follow my wrestling podcast on Instagram at (@roandbrowrestling). #BLOCKTHEHATE