This excerpt is from Chapter 25 of Bill Konigsberg's new novel, Out of the Pocket. Our protagonist, 17-year-old high school quarterback Bobby Framingham, has come out (not entirely on purpose). Because he is a sought-after college prospect, he’s become a national news story. After a trying first day at school, the second day is going better, in large part because of an article written by an LA Times sports writer.
The Kids Are All Right
by Luke Hutchens
October 23, 2007
Los Angeles Times Sportswriter
The kids are all right.
They knew all along what we adults managed to completely miss, that the sports world had to reconcile its themes of fair play and inclusion with the stark reality that not one single openly gay man has ever actively competed in one of the four major American sports.
All of our great sports heroes, and the best we could do was a handful of brave men coming out after the fact, in retirement. Billy Bean. Dave Kopay. Esera Tuaolo. John Amaechi.
Shame on our sporting heroes, whom we love for their integrity as well as their prowess. Shame on their counterparts, the heterosexual sportswriters.
We have held the power. So why have none of us had the courage to say, “Something isn’t quite right here? Maybe the world we’ve created isn’t quite conducive to true diversity.”
No one said, “Of course there are gay men playing sports. They should be allowed to be open and honest. We should create an environment that will help them to be so.”
Instead it was a brave, talented seventeen-year-old quarterback named Bobby Framingham who decreed that he should have the right to be open with who he is – a homosexual—while playing quarterback for his Durango Bulldogs at an extremely high level.
Of course, it was not done by a professional athlete, with millions of dollars in salary and endorsements at stake (again, a system we adults screwed up), but by a member of this new generation of hipper, wiser kids who grew up with gay characters on TV, in movies.
They know, at seventeen, how important inclusion is and how hypocritical the current “gay is fine, just don’t tell me about it” model is.
And Framingham’s revelation will lead to another student athlete deciding to come out, and another. And soon it will be happening at the college level. Then, and only then, may we begin to bring the sports universe into the twenty-first century.
That’s the lesson we’re learning from this brave Bobby Framingham.
If only we’d known sooner.
Luke Hutchens thought I was a hero, and now everyone wanted to talk to me, and I thought about Dr. Blassingame, when he told me to change the world. It made me shiver.
Later in Spanish, Señorita Vasquez said something I didn’t understand, beaming at me and enunciating, very carefully, the word homosexuales.
The Day of Horrors turned out better than I’d thought. Carrie and I hung out at lunch, during which she listed her new prospects for dating, since I was out of the picture romantically. There were four such prospects, apparently, and she wanted to know my opinions about each of them. I laughed.
“Carrie, I’ve been openly gay for, like, two minutes. Maybe we could talk about something else?” I asked. She shrugged it off.
“Well, okay, but if I get pregnant by the wrong man and wind up a teenage bride, it’s on you,” she replied.
All day I dreaded the locker room before practice. Things had gone much better than I'd expected in classes, but I didn't feel like dealing with whatever the guys were going to throw at me.
It turned out to be a lot quieter than I anticipated.
A couple underclassmen said “hey'' when I walked in. Usually the younger varsity players are pretty quiet around me, but I guess my coming out gave them the courage to talk to me, which I didn't mind at all. I never understood why anyone would be intimidated by me in the first place, since I'm not exactly like a yeller or anything.
Austin was already in his pads. He jogged over and slapped me on the back of the head.
“’Sup?” he asked.
“’Sup,” I answered, opening my locker. I got it. Austin and all my friends were trying to show me that it didn’t matter that I was gay. The result was weird, like everyone was trying too hard. I just wanted everything to be back to normal.
Austin faked out the bench in front of him with a quick start and stop, and then clattered into the lockers next to mine, shoulder pad first. Then he raised his arms and looked around, as if he were open and looking for a pass.
A football flew in his direction. I turned and saw that the throw came from Rahim, who was changing down the aisle from us. Austin caught it in one hand and then, since there was no crowd, went crazy for them, simulating the roar he’d get for catching a big touchdown pass.
For an encore, he spiked the ball, which banged into the bench and spun to a rest on the floor. Austin ran off to the water fountain, arms in the air, the adoring fans in his head cheering for him.
“How was the day?” asked Rahim, walking up to me while we changed.
“Not terrible, actually,” I said. “Not so sure about how practice will be, though.”
He smiled. “It’s gonna be good,” he said. “It’s always good to get out on the field and sweat a bit.”
Sure, Somers and Mendez and Dennis and some other guys kept their distance. But the locker room sure didn’t seem that much different than it had been before my secret was out.
I was able to forget about things during practice, and it was business as usual in the huddle. I concentrated on footwork and timing my throws and handoffs. Maybe Mendez was a little more quiet than usual, but he still looked fast-dodging defenders when we went first team offense versus first-team defense.
We were going to crush Los Amigos at homecoming tomorrow.
I got so intensely into practice that when Bolleran flinched before I finished my snap count for a hike, I reacted like I would have before, almost forgetting for a moment that he was flinching because I had my hands next to his flabby ass.
“Hey,” I barked. “That’s five yards right there. Get your head in the game.”
I looked over at coach and he nodded at me. And when we tried it again, Bolleran stayed real still. Things were going to work out just fine.
I actually waited out on the field for a few extra minutes, hoping to get to the showers late to avoid any kind of weird scene.
Once most of the guys were gone, I noticed that I wasn’t alone, doing extra stretching. So were Somers, and Mendez, and a few underclassmen.
I passed them as I headed in to the locker room. Somers saw me walking their way and started talking really loud.
“The NO GAYS ALLOWED shower room should be open in about fifteen minutes,” he said.
“Cool,” answered Mendez, stretching his hamstrings by bending forward with a straight back. “I’m not showering with no faggot.”
I had the urge to say a bunch of things, but I let it go. No use arguing, I figured. They were going to dislike me regardless of what I said. As I walked away I even chuckled a bit, thinking about how Mendez had used a double negative, which really means he was going to shower with a faggot.
I got to the locker room, hoping people would be getting dressed already, but when I got there, it was still pretty crowded.
I undressed and walked into the shower area and it was strangely quiet.
“We gonna take it to Los Amigos tomorrow?” Austin yelled, and some other guys yelled back “hell yeah,” but it was pretty weak, like everyone was being really careful with what they said.
I closed my eyes and let the water pour over my back, wishing I knew what to say to defuse the tension. I really wasn’t interested in ogling my teammates naked, thanks very much. I’d been to a summer retreat with these guys, where everyone acted gross for a week and there were no doors on the toilets. It was surprising how quickly I’d lost any feelings of lust for my teammates. I just wanted to win a damn football game.
“Hey, guys, I got an announcement.” It was a naked, skinny Rocky, walking with his arms wide to the center of the shower room.
Kind and quiet Rocky, who had supported me the day before. But I couldn’t help the way my face heated up anyway. I was afraid he was going to make a seriously weird situation worse. The shower room got very quiet.
“I just want to let you know there’s an article coming out tomorrow about me. I’m . . . an openly . . . Vietnamese kicker.”
Silence. For a good three seconds, all that could be heard was pellets of water slapping the tile floor like a rainstorm.
I snorted. I couldn’t help it. It was so ballsy, and out of character, and downright stupid, that I lost my ability to hold it in and just snorted really loud, and then the laughs came, from my belly, like I was having a seizure.
And once I started, I thought, Oh, great, the naked gay guy is having a seizure in the shower with his horrified teammates, and that made stopping impossible.
Luckily, the naked-gay-guy-laughing thing made someone else laugh, too. I wasn’t sure who it was, because my eyes were closed, but I heard some laughter near me and felt a wave of relief flood through my chest.
Then the laughs started coming and then they wouldn’t stop. I wiped the water from my eyes and looked and there was skinny-ass Rocky in the center of the room, beaming, loving every second of it.
“I’m openly tall!” yelled Colby, who is like six-foot-six.
“I’m an openly Latino tight end!” yelled Austin. “No, wait. I’m an openly sexy tight end.”
“Look at me, I’m an openly hung-like-a-horse defensive back,” yelled Dennis. “Hands off, Bobby.”
“Yeah, right,” I said. “Get that thing disinfected first.” I got a lot of laughs for that one. Dennis even smirked a little in response.
And amid all the hooting and hollering, almost all of the guys came out in one way or another.
“I’m openly black!”
“I’m openly French-Canadian!”
“I’m openly Chinese.”
And by the time I left the locker room, the openly gay guy was feeling pretty damn good.
I started laughing again when I was alone in my car, a mixture of fear and excitement made my chest tingle. All over America, I realized, people were watching TV and learning about me, and, this could all be okay, I thought. Except . . . except? As I drove down Durango Avenue, there was this tiny pocket of something in my gut. I tried to suffocate it, but it wouldn’t leave me alone, as if I’d forgotten something terrible.
My phone was sitting on the passenger seat. I had left it in the car all day, I guess. I picked it up and it said I had missed a call. I clicked a button to see who it was and saw the word DAD. There was no message. My dad. He must have heard about it in the news. How come I couldn’t keep my mouth shut until I told him first?
I hit the accelerator. I had to get home as quickly as possible.
You can purchase Bill Konigsberg's Out of the Pocket at Amazon.com.