ESPN: Half of College Football Players Know a Gay Teammate

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday August 17, 2009

The College Football Preview Issue of ESPN the Magazine features a survey of college players that asks them their opinions and views on a number of topics--including whether or not they happen to know any gay fellow team members.

The survey of 85 college players was answered anonymously, ensuring candid results. What reporters Bruce Feldman and Ryan Hockensmith discovered, contrary to the stereotype of jocks being uniformly ultra-uptight about sharing their locker rooms with gay teammates, is that many of them do.

"Almost half of those surveyed (49.4%, to be exact) said yes, they believe they have at least one gay teammate," reported a capsule write-up of the survey that appeared at BusinessWire.com on Aug. 14.

The survey also asked about steroid use and whether college athletes should receive financial compensation for their efforts on the field.

"In the Pac-10, 70% of those surveyed said yes," the capsule revealed.

Perhaps those numbers should not come as a great surprise. Though there is a lingering cultural stereotype that says gay men are effeminate and not sporting, such stereotypes apply only to some individuals; the GLBT community exists across all socioeconomic, religious, and ethnic demographics, as well as including many individuals with top-notch athletic talent.

Indeed, gay athletes are prevalent enough to count Olympic gold medalists, such as Canadian swimmer Mark Tewksbury and Australia's Matthew Mitcham among their ranks.

And there's even a Web-based news site dedicated to GLBT athletes: OutSports.com, where the story of "Tim," "a gay Division I college football kicker" was published last April 2.

A preface to the article noted that, "Outsports has verified ["Tim's"] identity and we have allowed his story to be told anonymously because we feel it is an important one to tell."

Tim was a soccer star in high school, and went on to success in college-level football, the article said. In his case, like attracted like: Tim's boyfriend was also a high-performing athlete, a baseball player who came out after his school sports career.

Tim came out earlier, at least to his parents: he announced his sexuality at age 15, and faced issues just as serious as bias on the playing field or in the locker room.

The article quoted Tim as recalling that, "My father was totally fine with it, but my mom wasn't."

She sent him to "Christian counseling" in an attempt to "cure" her son of his sexuality.

"I was very stubborn and ignorant at 15 and didn't give [the counselor] a chance," Tim was quoted as saying.

"I knew he was telling me what I didn't want to hear, and what I knew in my heart wasn't true--that being gay is wrong and a choice."

The attempt to "cure" him did not damage his relationship with his mother, though. "I was never bothered by it, she was and that just takes time and now everything is OK with her," Tim noted.

"Our relationship is at its best now."

Tim hasn't made an issue of being gay, but others on the team have picked up on it. After all, Tim's shared living space with three of his teammates, and didn't let that stop him from allowing his boyfriend to sleep over.

"And if they don't see him in the morning, they see that his car is here all night," Tim said, adding, "They may be jocks, but give them some credit--they figure it out."

The article recounted how a fellow team member told Tim, "I know about you, and if anyone ever messes with you, you just tell me who they are and I'll beat the crap out of whoever it is."

The shift in the sports culture still largely seen as deeply homophobic, is a result of greater GLBT visibility.

The article noted that a teammate told Tim, "My uncle is gay. I've got no problems with it."

Another Outsports story recounted the experience of Division II team captain for Bloomsburg University Brian Sims.

The article on Sims started off by contrasting Sims' story with another that was unfolding around the same time.

"In the autumn of 2000, we at Outsports had run the story of Greg Congdon, a high school football player in Troy, Penn., who had been run off the team because he was gay," the article read.

"At the same time, 100 miles away, a very different football story was unfolding."

Nine years ago, GLBT visibility was not what it is today, and the support that Sims (and, later on, Tim) received from his teammates may have been more unusual.

Even so, Sims--an all-American boy from an Army family--was not met with harassment or violence when his teammates clued in to his sexuality.

Like Tim, Sims roomed with a number of men from his team. They noted that young women came onto him--the article quoted a teammate named Gregor, who said, "In the dorms, there were nights when girls would literally stumble into our room and climb into bed with him"--and they noted that Sims didn't seem to reciprocate; as Gregor put it, after girls would barge into Sims' room, "five minutes later, they would leave."

But eventually, the article said, teammate Eric Miller asked Sims out and out whether he were gay, and Sims--despite a fear that he might lose his friends and his spot on the team--told the truth.

It didn't change anything, except for the ribbing he endured in the locker room.

The article quoted Sims as saying, "Straight guys tend to be the most curious about sex, in general.

"My team asked me everything you can possibly ask a gay guy about sex, and in the crudest terms possible."

And the year 2000 offered the team more to worry about: that was the year that Sims led his team to the national championship game.

The article quoted Gregor as recalling, "We made a hell of a run that year, going to the national championship game.

"Everyone was just really focused on the goal at hand, and [Sims being gay] was just put on the backburner. It didn't play a major role on our team. I don't think anybody was concerned that it would get out to the press or anything."

Delta State won, 63-34, against Sims' team, but Sims showed his talent in the game. "By the time it happened, I was the longest-running starter on the team," the articel quoted Sims as saying.

"I had a lot of success on the football field. And I think that bought me a certain amount of leeway with this group."

"Had he been a scrub sitting on the bench and not really part of the team, I'm sure he would have gotten ridiculed and made fun of," the article quoted Gregor as saying.

"I'm sure it would have been a much worse road for him had he not been a good player and the captain of the football team."

But, the article speculated, the support of his team helped ensure that Sims would excel on the field.

"It became a funny sense of pride for a lot of my teammates and close friends," the article quoted Sims as saying.

"Pennsylvania is not an extremely liberal state, especially central Pennsylvania. Football players are not what I would consider particularly exposed people, especially college football players.

"But I think it became a sense of pride for all of them," Sims continued. "'Not only is this guy an All-Conference player, and not only is he a starter, and not only is he a good friend of mine, but I'm all right with the fact that he's gay.' And I started seeing a lot of that."

That support extended to life off the field, as well: the article recounted that Sims and a male date were havingn dinner in a restaurant where several of Sims' teammates also happened to be enjoying an evening. A patron of the restaurant, the article said, made an anti-gay remark about Sims and his date.

"Three or four guys on my team literally picked him up and threw him out the door," recounted Sims.

The story of Sims remained with subsequent generations of the team: "After he graduated, it was more talked about," according to Gregor.

"Younger guys who didn't really know him talked about it. Guys would say, 'I can't believe that guy was gay and was the captain of the football team.'

"I won't say it became a legend, but it was more talked about after he left than it was when he was there."

Sims has moved on go another field of battle, becoming a lawyer. The article noted that Sims, who now sits on the Board of Directors for Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia, was working on getting anti-discrimination measures into law.

Noted Sims, "Our Constitution is very specific.

"It either says separation of church and state or equal protection. And there's not a valid policy argument to be made for why there isn't complete 100% equal rights for LGBT folks. There just isn't.

"The only argument that can be made has to trace back to religions norms. I happen to pay taxes to a government that says it won't base how it treats me on what a religion has to say about me," Sims observed.

The article reported that Sims foresaw a time when, as he put it, "My experience will be the norm soon.

"Pretty soon, it's not going to matter if you're a gay guy on a football team, and you're parents aren't going to freak out if they find out you're gay.

"Will it be different? Interesting? Yes. But it's so close to not being an issue, and I want to push us beyond that point."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.