By Tony Jovenitti
There, I said it.
Well, I didn’t say it. I wrote it.
I was always better at writing than speaking, anyway. So it’s only fitting that I’m doing this in writing. I’ve been a writer my whole life, throughout high school and into college. I’ve also known I was gay for a good portion of my life. But I did my best to hide it, quell my emotions and lie to myself and everyone around me.
I got into sports writing during my junior year of college after writing for the music section and the news section of my college newspaper. I covered NCAA football and basketball before landing an awesome internship with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
So naturally, I’ve been paying close attention to the You Can Play project and the amazing work that Patrick Burke has done. And then, yesterday, the inevitable finally happened. An active player in one of the four major North American professional sports came out of the closet.
I was overjoyed to see Jason Collins invite us to know the real Jason Collins. I posted it on my Facebook to let my friends hear the news, but thanks to my internal censor, I couldn’t really reveal just how excited I was. I couldn’t let people know exactly how much this meant to me, they might find out my secret!
But then I thought about it for a while. The thing I admired most about Collins’ story is that he came out in his own words, by writing his own story.
Now, I love sports, but I don’t really care for the NBA. I’ve never even heard of Collins. I honestly thought that, with all the work Burke has been doing, the NHL would have the first openly gay athlete. But here we are, an NBA player blazing the trail. (Did Collins ever play for the Trailblazers? No? Bummer.)
The fact that he wrote his coming out story so elegantly and in such a matter-of-fact way inspired me. I’m nowhere near as big of a deal as Collins. Heck, I’m barely a sportswriter anymore; I just do it on the side. But I want to tell my story and tell the truth to anyone who cares to listen – if only for my own sake.
I’m tired of putting on the charade of being straight. I grew up in a very small town that isn’t too accepting of diversity. There was one gay kid and one black kid in my school and both were bullied mercilessly. I didn’t partake in the bullying – I’m the kind of person who stays away from conflict, even when I probably should confront something – but I just stood by and let the jocks tease the only gay person in town who had the guts to be himself. For that, I’m ashamed. I wish I could go back and do it all over. But I can’t. All I can do is offer my apologies.
I also apologize to my family and friends to whom I’ve been lying. If there’s one thing that my parents taught me growing up, it’s that lying is wrong. And I let them down. But I know that they will accept and love me no matter what. They’ve even told me this when we’ve had discussions about homosexuality. I don’t know why I’m so scared to come out to the world.
I know all my friends will be supportive, and I know they will all still think of me the same way they did before they read this. My friends are some of the most accepting and rational people that I know. I really don’t know what I’ve been waiting for.
Perhaps I’m afraid to hurt people around me – like I said, I shy away from conflict and I go out of my way to please people. I’ve dated women, including one serious relationship in college. I lied to her. I honestly did love her; she’s the nicest girl you’ll ever meet. But she didn’t deserve being lied to. I almost don’t want to write this because I don’t want to hurt her.
But this needs to happen.
Yes, being a closeted writer in the macho world of sports was difficult. It was tough to keep my guard up the whole time. But I’m professional. I was there to do a job and do it well. (And yes, Don Cherry, I did see a penis in the locker room. But guess what? I didn’t care.) I think my coworkers can attest that I did the job well. Shockingly, my sexuality has nothing to do with how good of a sportswriter I am. Just like Collins’ sexuality has nothing to do with his basketball skills.
A few people would crack homophobic "jokes" and blurt out gay slurs at the office and in the locker room. I know they didn’t mean it, but that doesn’t make it right. I’m sure they’re reading this now saying, "Oh no, I didn’t know he was gay, I wouldn’t have said that!" It shouldn’t matter if someone’s gay or not; we shouldn’t be using those words. I’m not mad at these people and still consider them my friends, but I just hope they learn from this and stop using hateful words. Again, I know they didn’t mean it, but – much like Tyler Seguin’s unfortunate tweet a few days ago – we need to learn from things like this to clean up our vocabulary.
I moved away from my friends and family for a good job. I made new friends, but I kept up the charade. Now, it’s time to tear down the walls I’ve spent my entire life building. I’ll never find happiness if I keep this up. So it’s time to do the right thing.
I’m sorry to everyone I’ve lied to.
But, I’m Tony. I love sports. I love hockey. I love the Penguins.
And I’m gay.
I can’t make up for the lies I’ve told in the past, but hopefully, everyone will forgive me and we can all move toward the future together and find happiness.
Thank you, Jason Collins.
Tony Jovenitti, 24, writes for College Hockey News and interned with the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2010-11 season. He now lives in Madison, Wisc. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.