Arts & Entertainment
The OutField: Basketball in the closet
By Dan Woog
Originally printed 3/31/2011 (Issue 1913 - Between The Lines News)
"On the Internet," the famous New Yorker cartoon goes, "no one knows you're a dog."
And on the Internet, no one knows who "Anonymous Baller" is.
That's fine with him. All anyone needs to know, he says, is that he's an American playing professional basketball overseas.
Oh yes. He's gay. And he's blogging - about basketball, sexuality and much more - at "Playing Basketball from the Closet" http://bballinthecloset.blogspot.com.
The closet part is as important as the hoops. This is a rare pro athlete: He does not want anyone to know who he is.
He was willing to share some aspects of his life with The OutField. Growing up, he says, he loved "any sport with a ball." He didn't understand what "gay" meant until the beginning of high school.
Playing varsity basketball brought popularity. He dated a girl and tried to blend in. He recalls those years as "really shy and really lonely. I did what I needed to survive the questions." He made up stories to seem straight.
He lived for practices and games. "I felt like half a human being," he says. "I didn't know what would happen with my life."
Now, he looks forward to the end of each season. He vacations in someplace he's never been. There, he lives his "second life - the gay one."
With each vacation, he says, "I develop as a person. I accept myself more. I understand that I could be happy as a gay person, a couple, and I'm not doomed to have a sad and lonely life just because I'm gay."
Yet he still won't come out.
He has deep respect and admiration for John Amaechi and Gareth Thomas, the NBA and professional rugby player respectively who have come out. At the same time, the blogger says, there has never been a pro athlete who has come out "while he had everything to lose, while he was on top of the mountain or adored by thousands or millions." The basketball player hears gay curses in the locker room and the stands, so he stays in the closet.
But he has a lot to say, so he started blogging. "I wasn't sure how it would go, and what would happen," he says. He was pleasantly surprised.
He posts about many things. He has written about dreams, politics, youth in jeopardy, his own internalized homophobia and coming out to his family. Describing his first time in a gay bar, he wrote: "I got so nervous it was unbelievable. More than any basketball game I ever played, more than anything I ever experienced."
He also wrote about his first sexual experience with a man. It's the kind of stuff not often seen on pro athletes' pages.
After that first encounter, he wrote, "I had the feeling that everyone was looking at me, and looking at me differently. ...The only rational explanation I have is that in some part I felt I did something wrong or bad, and everybody in the street knew about it."
Here's his description of his New Year's celebration:
"I wouldn't mind having a night out on the town, well a town where I can be gay and there are a lot of available young blond guys which just happened to be gay. Instead, I enjoyed playing five on five and working on our full court press....I went to a restaurant with a teammate and his wife and called it a night. The only thing I was kissing as 2011 came in was this screen, since I was finishing up another post."
The theme of conflict runs through much of his writing. He knows he provides an important voice to young gay athletes - but he is aware that by not being out, he sends a mixed message.
"I really wish there was something that I could do, and I do think about it," he writes. "Maybe if I do come out even one kid will understand that being gay doesn't mean you can't succeed in life and can't make your dreams come true. It would be worth it, but for now it's just too much to lose."
He is not worried his identity will be revealed. "I know I'm taking all the measures that need to be taken in order not to give out any hints," he says. His writing is strong - but without important details, the picture he paints can never be completely full.
When he began blogging, he thought he might reach out to professional athletes in similar straits. That has not happened. However, he says, "I have heard from a lot of interesting people." Some have become e-mail friends. He also has helped guys who felt worse than he did.
It's not as freeing as being out. But it works for him.
Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, gay activist, and author of the "Jocks" series of books on gay male athletes. Visit his website at http://www.danwoog.com. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.