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Peeking out of the All-American closet

By |2018-01-15T21:06:31-05:00February 19th, 2009|Entertainment|

By Dan Woog

The OutField

Last month, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America honored its college All-Americans. With up to three men’s and women’s teams in the NCAA (Division I, II and III), NAIA, community and junior college, the list reaches the hundreds. Logic dictates that dozens of those All-Americans are gay.
But like college athletes at every school, in every sport and at every skill level, most are closeted.
Forty years after Stonewall, many of our physically strongest and toughest men and women still fear coming out to teammates and coaches.
Here is the story of one of them. But as testimony to his situation, he asked not to be identified by name, school, or even region of the country. This college All-American chose the pseudonym “Mason.”
Mason grew up in a rural area, in what he calls “a great home.” His parents were well-educated professionals. He started soccer at age 4, and it soon became his life. “When I was on the field, I didn’t have to worry about anything else,” Mason says. “I could repress my emotions, and devote all my energy to soccer. It was my sanctuary.”
Throughout high school, Mason hated being different. Burying his feelings, he dated tons of girls – and, secretly, one boy. One night, after drinking a bit, they kissed. The other boy, from a conservative Baptist family, told Mason they would both go to hell.
Mason hated being gay, himself and his life. He thought of suicide. But college was a fresh start, and he counted the days until graduation.
He chose a school in another state, as a way to start over – as straight. “Nobody knew me there,” he explains. “I could be whoever I wanted to be.” His new teammates assumed he was straight. The only question they asked was if he had a girlfriend back home.
His soccer experience was “amazing.” For the first time, he achieved his dream: He felt like he fit in. He went to parties, drank and hooked up with girls. “At the time, I thought my life was perfect,” Mason says. “But deep down I knew I was still different. I still dreamed about guys. I couldn’t escape it.”
His soccer coach often used “fag” as a putdown. Teammates routinely made anti-gay jokes. Once, as a joke, a player acted feminine. The coach said, “No fags on this team.”
“I knew I could never come out to them,” Mason says. “I’d started every game since I was a freshman, but even though I was on scholarship my coach would sit me if he found out I was gay.”
Last summer, Mason realized how unhappy he still was. He headed to the door and told the girl he was dating, “I just need to think about some things.” A week later he came out to a friend from high school. The friend was ecstatic; Mason felt intense relief.
He also told a favorite teacher from high school. She hugged him, and said he had a great life to look forward to. She was right. All summer long, Mason grew more comfortable with his sexuality. “For the first time I loved myself; I loved the man I was becoming,” he says.
But still he could not tell anyone on his team. Senior year was approaching, and he was sure they would not accept him. He spent all fall closeted at school. It was not easy.
“I still feel like my teammates – who I consider my brothers – don’t really know me. But based on their comments, and my coach’s, I felt it was better to be fake than be ridiculed. It was a horrible environment. But my love for soccer kept me going. I focused all my energy on the game. ”
Despite all his success – including being named All-American – life remains incomplete. “I’m held in such high regard as a player, but nobody knows I’m gay,” Mason says. “I felt like my team would look at me differently – like I’m less of a man.
“I regret having to hide. I admire college athletes who come out to their team. I wish I had the courage to do that. But my coach did not create that kind of environment. Tactically and technically he’s great, but coaching is more than that. I blame him – and myself – for living in hypocrisy.
He continues: “This is an issue I wish college coaches would invest more time and interest in. College athletes need to be able to express ourselves without fear of discrimination. I hope if anyone in college reads this article, it will stir up some noise about this issue. It exists.” And one day, Mason hopes, another All-American will be able to speak about it without needing an alias.

About the Author:

Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.
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