(This story was published on 2007).
Depending on whom you ask, it's debatable whether it should be harder to come out at the University of Georgia or on a hockey team. Joey Fisher did both.
This past summer, theUniversity of Georgia hockey goaltender, who has known since he was in middle school that he was gay, came out to his team. And the team's reaction may surprise some more than Fisher's courage.
Fisher came to sports just about as late as any collegiate athlete possibly could. In high school, he had no interest in sports whatsoever. He didn't like running, didn't like gym class, and was, according to him, pretty bad at any sport he attempted in said gym class. In fact, he had never even considered playing a sport until just before his 18th birthday when he accidentally downloaded an ice hockey video game to his computer, and he figured he'd give it a try.
The accidental video game piqued his interest in hockey so much that he soon attended an Atlanta Thrashers game. And after that one game, he said, he was hooked.
Then in his senior year in high school, he had already missed his opportunity to play organized ice hockey at that level. So, he opted to play for half a semester as a defenseman for a neighboring high school's roller hockey team. It wasn't on the ice where he wanted to be, but it was enough to wet his appetite and drove him to hit the ice when he entered college.
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"Hockey turned into a really great outlet because my parents were going through a divorce at the time too," Fisher said. "So, it really helped out. It was tremendous that I found something like hockey."
By the time he got to the University of Georgia, he had developed an interest in playing goaltender. He had attended anAtlanta Thrashers game and watched an incredible play by Thrashers goalie Pasi Nurminen that helped seal a much-needed tie in the midst of a terrible skid for the squad. Nurminen became Fisher's idol, and tending goal became his focus.
But there was an ulterior motive for Fisher's transition to goalie; One that revealed the gay sensibility inside the blossoming athlete.
"I really liked the equipment," Fisher said. "It looked cool."
Fisher soon connected with the University of Georgia Ice Dogs, the school's "non-varsity" (read: "club") ice hockey team (the school does not have a varsity team). The 2006 season found him as the back-up goalie and Web master for the team's Web site.
It was a couple weeks before the start of the team's 2006 training camp when Fisher, who had kept his sexuality hidden from his teammates, had finally become restless.
On the one hand, the soon-to-be college junior had developed a group of friends who were mostly gay or gay-friendly. He shared with them the loves and travails that a gay college kid would encounter. On the other hand, he had his hockey teammates from whom he kept the secret of his sexuality. When the team went to bars, they would try to set Fisher up with girls.
"That was part of the reason I decided to come out," Fisher said, "because I felt like I was living this double life. I had one set of friends in one group, and I had another set of friends in another group. And if ever they mixed, it would be really weird."
His decision was not without trepidation. He had heard homophobic comments in the locker room as his teammates flaunted their machismo. But Fisher clung to a story he had heard years before of former high school football captain Corey Johnson.
"I kept coming up with excuses to not come out. In reality, people are just going to be a lot better about it than anyone really expects," Fisher said.
He decided that he would post on his Facebook profile that he was gay. He figured that a couple people might see it and that it would help him ease out of the closet. In that assumption, he underestimated the power of the Internet.
Very quickly he was contacted by a teammate. "He didn't have a lot of faith in the guys," Fisher said. "He said he didn't have a problem with it, and I believe him, but he advised me to take down what I put up on Facebook."
Fisher decided he had had enough of hiding; so his online declaration stood. By the time training camp hit two weeks later, there was no need for Fisher to announce to the team, as he had been planning, that he was gay: They all already knew.
"Everyone was really good about it," Fisher said. "I was really surprised. I kind of expected to have at least one negative reaction. But, for everyone it seemed to either be a non-issue or they were just like, 'hey, it's really cool you're still here doing this.'"
The closest Fisher has come to experiencing a negative reaction was a teammate calling the vodka-cranberry he was drinking a "girly drink." Instead, he has experienced absolutely nothing but support from players and coaches. He even had a teammate try to set him up on a date.
"Because I came out on Facebook first, I think maybe some of the guys had the chance to talk about it and get some of the negative reactions out of the way," Fisher said.
As for the locker room, Fisher reiterated that he has never had a problem from any of his teammates. Those who shower after games (some opt not to given the lack of facilities at their home rink) still shower after games whether he's nearby or not.
He doesn't believe that other teams know about his sexuality, but he's prepared to hear the "fag" taunts if they find out. He said he's been heckled before, and that he has techniques to put it out of his mind; He doesn't expect the looming anti-gay taunts to be any different.
The 2006 season wasn't so successful for the team. Georgia, which has experienced incredible success for the last several seasons, missed the playoffs with a 9-14 record. As the back-up goalie, Fisher's Goal Against Average of 2.97 led the team.
In addition to the Georgia hockey team, Fisher gets his fill of the ice as a part of the Atlanta Thrashers' Community Development Program, working with goalies at the Thrashers' clinics and helping to coordinate halftime skits and entertainment.
Fisher isn't dating anyone at the moment, having recently broken off a three-month relationship.
Fisher is scheduled to graduate with a degree in sociology in the spring of 2008. After he graduates, he plans on getting his commercial pilot license (he's already licensed to fly privately). While he intends a career in commercial aviation, the chairman of Stonewall Students, a gay Democrat club at the university, also plans to make politics a part of his life.
"It's something I definitely feel passionate about," Fisher said. "I worry that I would get burnt out on it too fast, so I don't think I can make it a career."
He also certainly doesn't intend to leave hockey. Having just found the sport at 18, he's only just now begun to explore it. His hope is to revive a gay hockey team that died in Atlanta several years ago.