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‘The OutField’ opens eyes

By | 2009-09-03T09:00:00-04:00 September 3rd, 2009|Entertainment|

By Dan Woog

The OutField

Last winter, “The OutField” profiled a closeted All-America college soccer player. “Mason” (a pseudonym) described his love for the game – and the repressive environment that kept him from coming out to teammates and coaches.
What a difference six months makes.
When the column appeared in February, Cory – that’s his real name – was ready to come out to his best friend. He showed him the story. The friend thought it was great, and shared it with his friends. Soon, everyone knew that “Mason” was Cory. All reacted positively.
A month after graduation, the piece reached Chris Kranjc, Cory’s coach at Hastings College. He texted Cory, saying, “We need to talk. I’m here for you.”
“I knew what it was about,” Cory recalled. “We chatted for a little while about soccer and my new job. Finally we started talking about the article. He said he wished I came to him earlier. He said he would’ve been very supportive.
“It was so nice to hear him say that. He also said he wants me to come back for the alumni game, and nothing will change. We talked for an hour, and he ended by saying the article was a slap in the face for him. But he said he needed to read it. He wants to do more research, and learn from this.
“After the conversation, I felt amazing. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for the program.”
Cory suggested I call Kranjc. The coach was eager to talk.
“Cory’s such a great kid. He’s responsible, intelligent, he works hard every day,” Kranjc began. “He’s a heck of a player – and young man.”
In his 10 years as head coach, Kranjc said he never knew any gay players. Because Cory had many female friends at Hastings – an NAIA school in Nebraska – Kranjc never suspected he was gay. But after reading the “OutField” article, he knew he had to call his former player.
“It was Cory,” Kranjc explained. “He was a human being. For four years he gave his heart and soul to the program. I love him and his family. My kids love him too.”
Kranjc told Cory: “I wished you’d talked to me when you were here, so we could have dealt with things. But I understand why you didn’t.”
Kranjc calls himself “as conservative as can be. And I’m stubborn. But this was Cory. He needed my support, and he needed to know I accepted him. That was the most important thing. I slipped a couple of times when we talked – and I told him to tell me when I did. But I felt we reconnected. It was an awesome conversation.”
Kranjc said the talk opened his eyes. He decided to educate himself about gay issues. He began by calling other coaches.
“I asked if they coached someone they knew was gay, and how they handled it,” Kranjc said. “I feel badly Cory didn’t feel he could have been who he was. I don’t think it affected his play, but I want to hear as many stories as I can.

“I need to understand how people look at the world,” he added. “Cory’s story has taught me so much. It’s been a great learning experience. It will help all of us move forward.”
As the college soccer season begins, Kranjc will try to make sure his athletes know “they can talk to me at any time. Whatever they say will be confidential, if they want. I’ve always said that, but maybe I need to emphasize it more.”
He apologized to Cory for once saying to a player who pretended to act feminine, “There are no fags on this team.” But, as Cory also knows, team environments are often rife with jokes and putdowns.
“Guys say things,” Kranjc noted. “Trying to stop that is like trying to stop drinking in college. You’re better off trying to educate people about it.” If he hears anti-gay comments now, Kranjc said, he will respond: “Hey, don’t say that. You have no idea who you might offend.”
Kranjc will also encourage athletes to attend lectures about GLBT subjects. “We’re a liberal arts school,” he said. “It’s important to expose everyone here to everything. They may not always agree, but they have to start thinking about different things. I know I’ve been opened up to a different landscape, and it’s great.”
He also hopes to start a discussion on gay issues – perhaps with Cory by his side – at the national coaches’ convention in January.
Kranjc is eager for the season to start, so he can influence a new team. But his effect on Cory is already apparent – including one way he never intended.
Recently, Kranjc read a story about another gay soccer college player. He forwarded it to Cory.
The two men are now dating.

About the Author:

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