(This story was published in 2006).

May 2007 update: Hawkins fired at Missouri

“I just don’t understand why people seem so interested in my story.”

That’s what Kyle Hawkins (right), the now-openly gay head coach of the University of Missouri lacrosse team, has been saying since he came out on Outsports in June. The revelation of his identity has spawned an article in the New York Daily News that ran in newspapers across the country, a column on MSNBC.com, and a front-page article in the local Columbia Daily Tribune.

“The reality of who I am, I’m the coach of a minor sport. I’m not the head football coach at UCLA. I’m just amazed that anybody gives a crap”, Hawkins says.

The reason is simple: Even more rare than the openly gay athlete is the openly gay coach. When Hawkins decided to reveal his identity on Outsports, he decided to take a leap that only a very small handful of men have ever taken.

Hawkins anonymously introduced himself as Frustrated_Coach on the Outsports discussion board on September 28, 2004, with a1,500-word entry that said, “I am a head coach of a men’s team sport at a major division one university. I am totally closeted, not married, totally gay and no one would guess.” The guessing game started, pegging him as everything from an assistant football coach at an SEC school to a head coach in the Northeast.

For the next 20 months, while speculation swirled at Outsports (some even calling it a hoax), Hawkins slowly came out in his own private world. He told his assistant coaches he was gay and asked them to not share it with the team. He disclosed it to the team’s faculty advisor, who said Hawkins had his support. He told his parents – strongly religious Southern Baptists – and he has not heard from them since.

Eventually, news of Hawkins’ sexuality made its way to players on his team, and eventually their parents. That’s when Hawkins was first forced to defend himself.

Four of the players, all of them seniors this coming year, voiced concern to the administration and asked that Hawkins be removed as head coach of their team. One of the players’ parents are the presidents of the Mizzou lacrosse parent booster club, which organizes an incredible amount of support for the team including traveling to road games as far away as Oregon. The parents wrote a letter to the university administration asking that Hawkins be removed as head lacrosse coach. According to Hawkins, the university refused to share the letter with him due to “privacy issues,” as the letter was not addressed to Hawkins.

Under attack and now involuntarily out to his team, Hawkins decided he no longer needed to conceal his identity. So, on June 10, with a post on the Outsports discussion board, he became one of the very few openly gay male coaches in the United States. And in doing so, he found the advice and support of openly gay soccer coach Dan Woog, Helen Carroll, sports project director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the entire Outsports community.

He also found support at home. While these four players have been drumming up support for Hawkins’ removal, a “super majority” of his players support Hawkins remaining their head coach. Several lacrosse alumni have sent letters to the university in support of Hawkins.

To the university administration, according to Hawkins, his sexuality is a non-issue. Hawkins is a respected coach at Missouri and has built the lacrosse program into a contender. They won the Big XII division of the Great Rivers Lacrosse Conference going away, posting a 10-8 record (6-2 in the division), and they posted a win in the first round of the post-season tournament. Hawkins says this was quite an accomplishment in what is supposed to be a rebuilding period for the team.

He has also leveraged his relationships with high school coaches to attract top talent to his program. It is paying off, as Hawkins says he has a “ridiculous number of freshman coming in” this year. Of the 29 players on his roster last season, only seven were upperclassmen.

“Everything about the program is on its way up,” Hawkins says.

It also doesn’t hurt that, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the University of Missouri “has a written non-discrimination policy covering sexual orientation in its employee handbook or manual.”

The administration proved their support when they offered him a renewed contract in June. Hawkins is now in decision-making mode, as that contract needs his signature by July 15. With four of only a half dozen seniors on the team opposing him, Hawkins will need to decide this week whether he can bridge the gap between them or tolerate a season of potential mistrust. This week, he is holding his annual Mizzou Lacrosse Camp, and many of his players will be there to help. The week before he has to decide whether to sign his contract or not, the camp will give him a good idea of where his players stand.

Hawkins is also thinking about how his sexuality could change his relationships with even the players who support him.

“When I’m pointing out something on the field during a game, and I put my hand on a player’s shoulder, will he be hearing what I say, or will he be thinking about my hand touching him?” That’s the kind of issue that is roiling in Hawkins’ head: Will his ability to reach and coach his team be compromised by their subconscious fears of his sexuality?

While he continues to struggle with his own situation, Hawkins has already become a resource for other people facing a similar challenge. About a dozen male coaches have contacted him, asking for advice on how they should handle their own situation. Their biggest question: Should they come out? It’s a tricky question to answer. While many athletes and coaches, from Esera Tuaolo to Billy Bean to Hawkins himself, have said that coming out lifted a great weight from their minds, no one can assure anyone else that their personal experience will be void of serious trouble. From the young high school coach at the high school he attended to the six or seven college coaches that have contacted him, it could be damaging for Hawkins to prescribe coming out to everyone who asks for his help.

Plus, Hawkins says, many of these men are wary of people who try to push them out of the closet.

“I’m not trying to convince them to come out, but to be supportive of where they’re at,” Hawkins says.

These next few days and weeks will be trying for Hawkins. If he leaves Missouri, he’ll have the tough task of finding a job in coaching as an openly gay man. If he stays, he will be working to build in a select few team leaders the confidence in their coach that they will need to succeed this season.

For more about Kyle Hawkins, aka Frustrated_Coach, read the entire fascinating thread about his situation, and the advice Outsports readers offered him.