AK is the pseudonym for a former college football player and now competitive Greco-Roman wrestler. He wants to use his initials to prevent people from stumbling across his name in an Internet search, though he was happy to share details of his career. Outsports knows his identity and it has been independently verified.
Jan. 16, 2011 update: AK contacted me and now wants his name used since he is out to those he cares about. His name is Akil Patterson. The only changes made to this story are using Patterson instead of AK.
By Jim Buzinski
It was not a question one would expect to hear from an NFL scout during a predraft interview: “Are you gay?”
Akil Patterson was stunned, later learning that an assistant coach from his college days mentioned it to the scout. “I said yes,” Patterson recalls of the 2007 interview. “We've got a lot of guys in the league who are,” the scout replied.
Patterson never made an NFL roster, though he doesn't blame being known as gay for it. “I was kind of sloppy at workouts,” he said, and he was not drafted or invited to a training camp. “I didn't care.”
|Top ohoto, Patterson on the mat. Second photo, Patterson wears these shoes on the mat. They had belonged to an OIympic wrestler he admires.|
Patterson is now pursuing his lifelong passion in Greco Roman wrestler. He has been ranked as high as fifth in the U.S., with his goal to wrestle at the 2012 Olympics. “I want to stand on that top podium,” Patterson said. “I got a long way to go, but I have been making progress.”
Patterson talks with an intensity about wrestling that he admits he never had for football. This despite him being a blue chip lineman in high school in Maryland and recruited by top schools such as Penn State and Michigan. He chose to attend the University of Maryland, where he started on defense before moving to the offensive line. He later transferred from Maryland to California University of Pennsylvania, a much smaller school located just south of Pittsburgh.
At Maryland, Patterson spent as much time drinking, fighting, smoking pot and chasing women as he did on his studies. “Self-medication,” he calls it. But no amount of pot or booze could erase the secret he was trying to hide from himself and others – he was gay.
“My sexuality was a big issue … a really big issue,” Patterson says. “I tried to squash it and move on.” Of his frequent sex with women, he says: “If it had on a skirt and it smiled, it was good enough. I spent a large portion [at Maryland] as a man-whore. I was just an athlete being an athlete.”
But none of this stopped rumors from spreading that he was gay. He was told that when he got drunk (a frequent occurrence back then) that he "tended to say some strange things.” And he says he was pressured by coaches to drop a course he enrolled in, “GLBT Studies.” “I was asked why I was taking fag classes,” Patterson said.
“I wasn't a good student,” he says. “ I was one of those 'C's get degrees' guys. I was partying too much and got blackout drunk. I wanted to be a loner. It was all because of my sexual identity. I spent two years internally wrestling with myself.”
Coming out to a Johnny Cash song
Patterson, though, slowly came to realize that he couldn't deny his sexual orientation. In the summer between his sophomore and junior year, he had sex with a waiter he had flirted with. With Johnny Cash's song “Hurt” playing in the background, Patterson and the waiter kissed, then kissed again. “It was good,” he said. “It was what I needed and it didn't feel wrong.”
That summer was an eventful one. Besides hooking up with the waiter, Patterson hit on a male cheerleader. Then he and a wrestler got into a fight with a man, which started all sorts of rumors on the team. It was like a game of “Telephone,” with various stories going around that intertwined unrelated events.
“I started freaking out that people were going to find out my secret,” Patterson said. Some teammates confronted him one day, encircling him, and demanding to know if he was gay. “I told them no,” he said, saying he did so out of fear.
“I then went back to my room, turned on some music and started bawling uncontrollably.”
But the low point may have come when he was asked by a coach, “What are you? Some fag?” Patterson denied it, but decided it was time to leave Maryland.
He got some offers from other schools looking for a talented offensive lineman. In 2005, he picked California University of Pennsylvania because “I thought I could go there and hide.” He was wrong. When some people from Maryland visited the campus, they told stories about Patterson. To stop the rumors, “I started having a lot of sex with women again,” he said.
Patterson did confide that he was gay to a teammate, who suggested he visit Pittsburgh so he could be himself. After some forays to Pittsburgh gay clubs, he did not think he fit in. He took a year off from school and traveled for the first time to Europe. Seeing men kissing and holding hands in public made him realize there was a larger world out there than the one he was inhabiting. He came out to his family, went back to school and wound up becoming a two-time All America at guard.
After his NFL plans were dashed in 2007, he went to Montana for a short time to play semipro football. But his heart was not into it and he became grossly overweight. “I weighed 385 pounds,” Patterson said. “I was a disgusting human being.”
Patterson then left football for good and started devoting himself to Greco Roman wrestling (he had been a champion high school wrestler). He got into great shape and has stopped partying. He moved to Maryland and volunteered to help coach a college team.
Patterson works full time as a youth counselor (he wants to get a certificate in addiction counseling) and also trains in wrestling, keeping his eye on his goal of being an Olympian. “I love wrestling,” he says. “The sport is a part of me.”
While he is not publicly out in the sport, he also does not hide who he is. He has a couple of wrestling friends who know he is gay. “They'll razz me by pointing to a guy and saying, 'No, no Akil – he's not for you.' ” Patterson was in one brief relationship with a man, but says that between work and wrestling he doesn't have much of a social life.
Patterson says he is telling his story because “I don't want a 15- or 16-year-old kid to have to experience what I did,” hoping he can make a difference. Patterson is much more at peace with himself than when he was a scared yet wild college athlete.
“Nothing changes if nothing changes,” he said.
Akil Patterson welcomes e-mails at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Some ot the comments below were made before Patterson allowed his full name to be used.