(This story was published in 2007).
Chances are, unless you're a Big Ten fan or follow college basketball very closely, you've never heard of Zach Puchtel. So, it might surprise you to know that, according to a Minnesota sports blog, the former basketball standout for the University of Minnesota came out of the closet months ago. Gopherhole.com today published a lengthy interview with Puchtel in which he talks about his sexuality to the press for the first time.
"It was a spectacle because it was on stage, in front of about 3000 people," Puchtel told Gopherhole. "I stopped the show, walked to the front of the stage, and made my announcement that I was gay."
What's surprising is that so few people picked up on it, and it never got any traction in the press. While John Amaechi had come out, a former Big Ten player of the week coming out is, indeed, news; other than Amaechi, to the best of Outsports' knowledge, Puchtel is only the second Div. 1 male college basketball player ever to come out in the press.
For the record, Puchtel does not consider himself gay or straight. As he said in his blog, The Search:
"I am sexually attracted to men and women, and I enjoy being with women in intimate relationships. I think human beings are beautiful, and I try not to differentiate due to sex, race or any other minute detail. We are all humans, we are more than 99.9% similar in every way, and we all share this life together."
It is an interesting revelation, and indicative of where sexuality is headed in our culture. While many people don't want to believe that bisexuality is real, forcing people to "choose" between homo- and heterosexuality, more and more young people are finding themselves attracted to both sexes and allowing themselves to pursue those attractions. As former Out editor Brendan Lemon said in our book, The Outsports Revolution:
"So much of the attention to gay pro athletes has been, 'who's gay, who's gay,' and my experience of them has been much less categorical. … My perception of it, my personal experience of it, is much more bisexual than what gay sports fans might want to hear. … For most athletes I know who have been expressive or open or had experiences sexually, that's not how it works for them. Of the gay or bisexual pro athletes that I've met or know, about half of them are married to women or they have girlfriends. And that's something that neither the gays or the Middle American sports fan wants to think is true."
Puchtel revealed that he had shared his sexual attraction with teammate Spencer Tollackson. While many people assert that a big-time gay football or basketball player would find little support in his locker room, Puchtel told Gopherhole, "It didn't change anything, he was completely supportive." He added that he has told other former teammates, and that he has found support from them. "I haven’t told all of them, but those of them that I did tell were great. It makes me wish I wouldn't have waited so long; it was really a burden on me. I had a few good friends who were outlets for me, including Spence, but it was very difficult not being able to express my self truly.
Puchtel says he now wants to play in the NFL; he played football in high school and for Harvard before transferring to Minnesota to play basketball; the 6-foot-6 power forward certainly has the size to succeed there.
"I believe that I was put on this earth to play football," he said in his blog. "This is my next goal, and I don't see anything that can stop me."
But does coming out about his sexual attraction have an impact on his chances of making an NFL roster?
"Everything you do affects the future," Puchtel told Gopherhole. "I believe that they have no choice; it's discrimination if they don’t allow someone to play because of their sexual preferences."
We'll certainly be watching closely.