Editor's note: "Tim" is the pseudonym for a gay Division I college football kicker. Outsports has verified his identity and we have allowed his story to be told anonymously because we feel it is an important one to tell.
This story was updated on April 23, 2013 as the kicker below, then named Tim, has revealed himself as Middle Tennessee State kicker Alan Gendreau
By Eric Anderson
As one of the team's placekickers, Tim doesn't get much playing time: There is a fraction of a second between when the ball is snapped and the opposing team's defense rushes forward; and just another fraction before his foot connects with the ball. For him, the pressure to perform comes in microbursts, and his performance can either make him a hero or leave his team brooding in defeat.
On this day, Tim's high school football coach asks him to make a very long field goal: He sends the ball sailing forward, safely entering the sweet terrain between the posts. It wasn't a game-winner; his coach allowed the attempt because his team was comfortably ahead. Still, it gave Tim the chance to prove himself as a field-goal kicker to college coaches.
|Photo illustration by DJ|
It ‘s because of his ability to remain unruffled under pressure, to win a game in a clutch, and to put a ball through the post from that far away that Tim gave up his outstanding high school soccer career and instead accepted a Division 1 scholarship to play college football.
Tim knew he was gay at 15; It's also when he came out to his parents.
"My father was totally fine with it, but my mom wasn't," he says. "She wanted me to seek Christian counseling. Five sessions, that's all he got. I was very stubborn and ignorant at 15 and didn't give [the counselor] a chance. 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."
Tim's mom soon resigned that her son was gay, and Tim has never wished he were straight. "I was never bothered by it, she was and that just takes time and now everything is OK with her," he says. "Our relationship is at its best now."
Tim won a lot of soccer awards in high school. Now, he is a rising star on his college football team, starting as the team's kicker in the 2008 season. Although only a freshman, Tim has endeared himself to his coach and teammates.
His boyfriend is proud of him, too.
Like so many their age, the two met on Facebook. Although he once attended the same college as Tim, he has since transferred to another school. They share much in common -- music, fashion, and even sports. His boyfriend is an openly gay former baseball player (he was closeted while playing) for his school. He comes to watch Tim play football whenever he can.
Although Tim does not introduce him to his teammates as his boyfriend, "people know," Tim says. One of the team's seniors said to him this past season: "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."
This modicum of protection isn't just because Tim is good at his sport, it also comes from genuine gay-positive sentiment. "My uncle is gay," Tim recalls one of his teammates telling him. "I've got no problems with it." Apparently, nobody else on the team does either. Tim has received no homophobic harassment and says he has never been harassed by anyone for being gay.
It's not accurate to call someone using a pseudonym "openly" gay. But Tim is certainly not closeted, either. He lives with three of his teammates on campus, and his boyfriend frequently spends the night, too.
"And if they don't see him in the morning, they see that his car is here all night," he says. "They may be jocks, but give them some credit -- they figure it out."
Tim has partially taken an approach of "don't ask, don't tell.' He won't say that he is gay, because "it just never comes up." But in other ways Tim realizes that topics of sexuality do come up.
Heterosexuality comes up all the time, he just avoids these conversations. "I wouldn't hide it if they asked," Tim says. This strategy sends a message to his teammates that Tim is not interested in talking about women, but he doesn't breech it verbally. He isn't actively lying, but he is making no effort to verbally out himself either.
'I was assumed straight'
Tim says that the guys know he is gay because people talk. Tim is out on campus, and he is particularly close to a group of female volleyball players. "A bunch of those girls date guys on the football team, so they tell them I'm gay," he says. His roommates (who are also teammates) talk to other players about it as well.
"Only a handful of people knew about me in high school," he says. "I was assumed straight because I was so good at sports."
But the reality is that Tim was not assumed straight, at least not by all. I heard about him through one of his high school soccer teammates, who referred to him as an openly gay high school soccer player. In other words, it's hard to keep the lid on something like homosexuality, and even if one thinks they are closeted, they may not be viewed this way by all. So while Tim doesn't verbalize his sexuality himself, his roommates and teammates do. Still, "I don't hide it if I am asked," Tim says. "I'm not ashamed. I have never been ashamed."
Tim tells his teammates he is gay in other ways, too. He is not a macho-jock guy, and he makes no attempt to ramp up his manliness. There is no apology for who he is. Tim is fashionable, and if you're looking for other variables to judge his level of "outness" and acceptance, Tim also brings his boyfriend to team parties.
"I don't introduce him as my boyfriend, but guys know," Tim says. And although Tim failed to brag about the very long field goal he kicked in high school, his voice perks up a bit when he boasts, "we're a very popular couple."
Tim shows a lot of guts for a freshman, particularly since he plays in a state located in the Bible Belt. Even if he's not saying he is gay, bringing his boyfriend home at night would likely be construed as an outing that many gay people would never had dreamed of doing while they were in college.
A valued teammate
And although he attends a very large university, there are not a whole lot of gay men around for him. Still, his experience isn't what one might suspect it would be in this climate. Times have changed so much that Tim is viewed simply as a valued teammate. He says he has never been harassed; not by his own teammates, fans or others. "I've had a lot of crazy things yelled at me, that's part of the sport [to distract the kicker], but I have never been called gay or a fag with intentions of indicating I was gay."
Tim understands that some people are homophobic, but he can't recall a single time in which any of his teammates have intellectualized homophobia to him, either. "You do, of course, hear guys say, ‘that's so gay' but that's not intended to be homophobic," he says. Tim is just one of the team and does not feel marginalized or discriminated against for being gay.
As for the reasons why he does not want his name to be used in this article, he says he is not ready to be that out. He also believes that his coach should know before an article is made public about it. Telling the coach won't be a big deal, he says; in fact, he says several of the players have recommended that he do so. "Our coach has to deal with a lot. He can't be closed-minded; we have players with babies and others that have been in jail," Tim says. "He is an understanding guy. He has to in order to be able to do his job."
But for now, Tim is not ready to be the poster-athlete for gays in sport. He is in no particular rush to come out publicly. He doesn't see himself doing so in the future, either.
Although Tim has aspirations to be an NFL kicker, he maintains that there is no reason for a professional athlete to come out in sport.
"You don't see pro athletes flaunting the fact that they're straight so why would I have to flaunt that I'm gay?'" he says. Of course, pro athletes do flaunt the fact that they are straight by talking about and being photographed with wives and girlfriends. Tim is also aware that his teammates talk about their heterosexuality in ways he does not talk about his homosexuality.
What Tim's story reflects is a culture with decreased cultural homophobia, but it shows that we have a long way to go in terms of heterosexism. The fact that Tim views gay proclamations as "flaunting" while straight flaunting goes unnoticed highlights the power of his culture to relegate homosexuality as now acceptable, but something considered private and thus unspoken.
Tim does recognize that sport has kept him somewhat silenced on the issue. Although he does not feel oppressed in sport, he says, "If I was a normal student I would probably be completely out. Sports in a way keep me from being me all the way." He justifies his situation by adding that "it's paying for my education, so it's a fair trade-off."
For now, Tim is not bothered by his silent way of being gay. Whether it be kicking a field goal or coming out, Tim looks at matters calmly.
"My motto is, if you don't bother me I won't bother you. It seems to be working so far," he says.
Editor's note: This story has been slightly edited since its original publication.
Eric Anderson, a frequent contributor to Outsports, is a sociologist at the University of Bath in England who studies the intersection of sport, men and homophobia. He has authored "Trailblazing: The True Story of America’s First Openly Gay High School Coach," as well as "In the Game: Gay Athletes and the Cult of Masculinity." For more on his works, see EricAndersonPhD.com.
Tim can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com