Notre Dame varsity tennis player Matt Dooley has always been an athlete. But, it's another part of his identity -- his sexuality -- that he struggled with for years.
"I was obviously raised in a pretty intense environment," he says. "You know, Texas, conservative family, military family, Catholic family. All of these things came together to create a lot of pressure on someone. And, that pressure just kind of builds."
Dooley wrote about his journey to self acceptance in an article published Monday on outsports.com, which quickly went viral.
In it, he describes feeling desperate and confused in 2011. That's when the pressure became too much and Dooley tried to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of pills.
"Speaking about it, writing about it wasn't easy," he said. "But, it's true and it was tough. You wake up and in that kind of situation, I knew in my piece I mentioned the word 'smothering', and that's what it felt like. Mentally and internally it's like you're struggling to breathe."
Even after getting out of the hospital after trying to take his life, it took Dooley quite some time before he came to terms with his true identity. Last summer, he finally decided to tell his family he was gay.
"I never really let them have the chance to accept me and that was one of the biggest challenges that I had to ultimately come to terms with," Dooley said. "And, ever since then, they've been amazing. From the very first time I told them, they've been supportive."
Dooley says his relationship with his brother, who he mentions in the article, is also great. He served as the best man in his wedding.
And, the acceptance Dooley felt from his family and close friends led him to come out to his coaches and teammates at Notre Dame in September. He told them two years to the day he tried to commit suicide.
"It was all positive," he said. "It was more like a thank you rather than anything. It was as if I was demonstrating my trust to them."
Dooley says it's a relief to be out and surrounded by support. And, his struggle with accepting his sexuality and feeling comfortable in his own skin makes him want to help others.
That's why Dooley ultimately decided to share his story on outsports.com.
"It was really to just kind of put in people's minds the legitimacy of the 'You Can Play' project here in the eyes of both current student athletes and prospective student athletes, letting them know that you can feel at home here," he said.
Dooley is now working with 'You Can Play' and Notre Dame to start a new initiative on campus. He says all university sports teams have agreed to appear in a video supporting the effort.
"This whole thing is purely based on respect," Dooley said. "It keeps politics out of it and that's something that was really important to us. Because, we knew it was a message that was universally acceptable. And, you can't stand against it. Everyone deserves respect and that's part of it. If you can play, you can play."