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A gay Penn State rower feeds off others' stories to tell his teammates

(This story was published in 2007).

By: Andrew Glenn

(Editor's note: We received this letter and were moved by its sentiments, not because of its praise for Outsports, but because it showed another athlete empowered to come out. We are reprinting it with permission.)

I am writing this e-mail to thank you for all the work and effort you have put into Outsports.com. Personally, the website provided an outlet for me when I was struggling with my sexuality and being on a sports team. I want to share my experience with you to let you know how much I appreciate everything you've done.

I graduated from Penn State on May 19. Looking back on my time there I am nothing but proud. When I first arrived I was one freshman among approximately 39,999 other students. I was naturally looking for a means to fit in and find a niche to call my own. I had fenced for seven years through middle school and high school but inevitably found that I wasn't going to make the multiple NCAA championship team (I guess not being Eastern European is more of a disadvantage than I thought it was.). Not to be discouraged I turned to the club sports circuit and decided that I would try something new instead. I considered a number of clubs but eventually settled on the crew team. My brother had picked up rowing at his university (he was a coxswain at Brown and now coxes for Cambridge) so I decided to give it the old college try.

From Day One I fell in love with it. The team provided me with everything I was looking for: a sense of belonging, something new, and, of course, awesome parties. All that and I was in the best shape I've ever been in. The 4:30 wakeup calls seemed like a small price to pay. I got to see sunrises (a rarity in college), I accomplished more by 8 in the morning than most people would accomplish all day, and I earned the high you can only get form an amazing practice. I even hold the dubious honor of being the only member to have gone from heavyweight rower to coxswain in one year (If anyone is looking to lose weight, apparently rowing is the way to go). The team, as cliché as it sounds, really did become like another family.

Everything seemed perfect ... other than being deathly afraid of anyone finding out I was gay. No one knew at that point, not even my family. I didn't really acknowledge my sexuality to myself until senior year of high school. Even then I didn't come to grips with it until my first year in college. To this day I'm impressed at how I was able to fool myself into thinking 'It's just a phase" or "I don't have time to worry about this." I personally hold college responsible for making me realize my own sexuality; with it's "liberal biases" and "accepting nature" and all. That being said, I still wasn't comfortable with being gay. Much less telling anyone (especially on the crew team). As time went on though I felt more and more guilty. I was basically lying to my friends. I wanted to tell my teammates but I was so frightened at how things could change if they knew. Their friendship and acceptance was important to me and I didn't want to risk losing it.

With Penn State being a state school, in a state formerly represented by Rick Santorum, I was understandably apprehensive. I went to a high school in Southern California. Pennsylvania was an introduction me to a wide variety of fresh experiences ranging from hunting stories to Amish (who make delicious pies and baked goods, by the way). Other than Pittsburgh and Philadelphia there isn't a whole lot else going on outside of Happy Valley. Most of my teammates had never even met a gay person before. I didn't know how they would take the news. I turned to the internet to seek help. That is when I stumbled across Outsports.com and became addicted. Just knowing that there were other people out there in the same boat (no pun intended) as me was comforting. I read stories about athletes like Graham Ackerman and Ryan Quinn who were out and they became my heroes. After some time I realized that if my team couldn't accept the fact that I was gay then screw them, their loss.

I didn't make a grand announcement or anything like that. Instead I told a few friends the same way anyone in college tells their friends something important -- drunk in the dorm's bathroom holding my one friend's hair back as she puked. The next morning at brunch was one question after another. "Do your parents know?" "Are you coming out to everyone?" And my personal favorite, "Are you sure?" I told them yes, I am sure, and I wasn't going to hide it anymore. I let them know that it didn't change anything. I was still the same person they knew. Eventually everyone knew about it as word got passed around and things couldn't have been better. Things did change, for the better. I found my team members nothing but supportive. There were a few that were uneasy with it, but eventually they got used to it. In many cases they were the ones most fascinated with the whole "gay thing" and were amazed that I watched football and drank beer instead of singing show tunes and wearing heels.

I recently went to the last regatta I will ever attend as a member of the team. While I'm sad that it's over I'm happy with my experiences. I'm sad to be leaving my teammates and Penn State but I couldn't have asked for anything more. Now that I am officially an alum, I will know that I made the most of my time and I'm a better person because of what I went through. I can even take solace in the fact that I helped change some people's perceptions of our community.

Thank you, Outsports, for providing me a haven. I hope that other closeted athletes will continue to get strength and conviction from this site. I know I did.

Andrew Thayer Glenn

Andrew Glenn majored in Economics and minored in International Studies.