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Derrick Peterson: Setting the Record Straight

(This story was published in 2002).

As the sports editor of Genre magazine, and in my role at Outsports, I was partly responsible for the article in Genre's July issue in which professional runner Derrick Peterson came out of the closet. Having spent the better part of a weekend with him, it has been both surprising and disheartening to see and hear comments he has made on Web sites and to me personally.

In the past month, Derrick has declared he is not gay and questioned the integrity of the article. The issue was featured in the Aug. 26 issue of Sports Illustrated. Based on the public nature of the issue I felt it was my responsibility to set the record straight and unearth how Derrick Peterson went from "one thing I will say for sure [is that] I'm definitely not heterosexual" to "I can never love another man" in three short months.

In May, during Derrick's two-night stay in Los Angeles, Eric "Gumby" Anderson (the author of the article) and I spent a good deal of time with Derrick. We talked with him at length about guys, sports (running in particular), and his "gay" social life in New York and in Missouri - with him relaying how he had to drive two hours to Kansas City or St. Louis to go to gay clubs.

Anderson and I repeatedly emphasized the attention this article was going to bring to him - this was a big, important step for him to take and lots of people would notice. We wanted him to be prepared when the media outlets started calling for his comments.

On May 6, the day after he returned to St. Louis from doing the photo shoot and interview in Los Angeles for Genre, Derrick wrote me this e-mail:

"Thank you and everyone who had a hand in my weekend. It was great. I love coming to LA and West Hollywood. I can't tell you how nervous and excited at the some time doing this whole thing. I hope that this inspires many people as will as myself in the coming weeks and years. If there is anything I can do for you and Outsports and Genre please don't hesitate to call me ... or e-mail me. Again thank you for this opportunity."

About five weeks later, Andy Towle, the editor of Genre, received phone calls from a magazine, a television show (HBO "Real Sports") and a radio show - all interested in talking with Derrick. It was mid-June and Derrick was in the middle of a hectic race schedule. He said that he was interested in doing interviews, but that he was too busy until late June or early July to do them.

When the article hit newsstands and was reported on Outsports, lots of people noticed. Derrick then refused to do the interviews he previously had agreed to. On an early morning phone call to me in June, he told me that he was afraid of what was going to happen. I told him that he didn't have to do any interviews, but it would certainly be a stronger message if he did. Later that day he left a message saying that he finally read the article in Genre and thought it was well-written and that he liked it.

After a wonderful article hailing Derrick's courage was published by the Daily Pennsylvanian (the newspaper of the University of Pennsylvania) in July, by a runner who himself was coming out, Derrick wrote a message on the paper's online discussion board:

"First of all I want to let the world know the truth and that I [AM] NOT GAY (get it right for God sake) and stop making me out to be something that I am not. I admitted that I like Men and I like women (I currently have a GIRLFRIEND, and it is not a cover-up; I love her). Anyways this is to the author I told you that I was not wanting any press on this, because this is my life and like many have said who gives a F**k who I go home with, it is my choice and a private choice at that, so STOP PRYING into my PRIVATE life. Thank you. Please Let me live my life and not the life you want me to live."

He then followed with his comments on letsrun.com in August:

"...The truth must be told and Ii can't just sit back and let my name and my life be dragged through the mud anymore, so I have to say that I am NOT GAY,(period). Everyone goes through an experimental phase in their life and at the time of doing the interview with Genre I was in the phase and I truly know now that I can never love another man, and what I am looking for in life I could not have, these things were realized upon doing the interview, but I keep a promise to do the story. "

In the homophobic world of sports, why would a professional athlete who does not like guys tell a national magazine that he does? Derrick did more than experiment here: he flew to Los Angeles to spend a weekend with a writer and photographer to come out to the world. And he had the support of his main sponsor, adidas.

And now he's saying it was a big hoax.

I have spoken with Derrick on several occasions, and received other e-mails from him. Each time he assures me that he has had no professional pressure - from adidas or other sources - to declare that he's not gay. This, he says, has been a personal decision based on his love for his girlfriend.

Maybe so. But, what cannot be erased is that he told a national gay magazine he is not straight. He told that magazine that he likes men. He told that magazine that he has been going to gay clubs since he was 14. It is also not the case, as some would assume, that Derrick has caved to too much professional pressure. On the contrary: he has received no professional pressure from this. From his sponsor to other runners (one of whom, Jess Strutzel, who is straight, even came to the photo shoot to support him), Derrick has heard nothing but support.

If Derrick wants to spend the rest of his life with a woman, that's his choice. But, for him to say publicly that Genre or Outsports.com got the story wrong - and that he lied to get some publicity - is simply not the case.