By Devin Price
As a child, I never really understood how hard and messy life could actually be. I was always taught lessons like "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and "Two wrongs don't make a right."
It wasn't until high school that I learned another lesson: Not everyone is taught these same values.
Growing up, my family lived in South Bend, Ind. My mom raised three children, worked, and got her degree all by herself. My real father was never around. My mother stayed with him for 13 years until she realized enough was enough. She soon met the love of her life, and she moved us to a completely new area: new surroundings, new school, new people. These people didn't know me, and I didn't know them. It was like a fresh start. I was actually really excited; I had a chance to be whoever I wanted to be.
The small town we moved to doesn't experience change very often. My real dad is black, and my mom is Greek. The kind of welcome I got being a mixed-race kid in a traditional white, Republican town wasn't particularly good. School was a prison. My classmates were quick to torment me. I heard names like "Bah Bah Black Sheep," "Nig-Nugget" and "Nigglet". When they learned that I was Greek as well, they would say things like "You're a terrorist" and "Go back to your own country," even though I'm from the United States.
It was then that I also pieced together my sexuality. I had experienced some feelings for years, but it wasn't until then that I could accept that I was gay. It was also then that I started hearing gay slurs. I never told anyone that I was gay, but they figured it out and called me names like "Fag" and "Fairy."
I couldn't understand why these people were so mean; All I ever tried to do was be nice and fit in.
I felt so trapped, so alone. I lashed out at my family, the very people who meant the most to me. I was never happy and started causing all kinds of trouble. I honestly didn't know if I was going to make it to my next birthday. I began wondering if people would feel bad about what they've done if I wasn't here anymore. "Maybe they would hurt the same way I hurt if I was gone," I thought.
Sports pulled me out of my very dark place.
Entering high school, I started playing football and running track. If there was one thing that no one could ever criticize, it was my speed. There wasn't anyone at our school, in our conference, or even in our county who could catch me. I played football for one year and realized that wasn't really the sport for me. Track and field came naturally, and by my sophomore year I had gotten pretty good. Track gave an outlet to step away from all the hate at school. During my time there I broke three school records, had six conference titles, and won a slew of other awards. During my senior year, I committed to run D1 track and field at Indiana State University.
In college, life got easier. There was a lot more diversity, and I stopped getting teased for my skin color and ethnicity. I finally felt like I could fit in. Unfortunately, the torment and mockery for being gay didn't go away so easily.
I still hadn't come out to anyone other than my best friend Sean Manaea, who also committed to Indiana State to play baseball. I still hadn't told any of my teammates, but like in high school, most of them noticed how my personality was - different. They quickly began to make fun of me. They would corner me and make comments like, "Where's your girlfriend at?" and "What kinds of girls do you like...oh wait, none." They'd also asked why I didn't have sex. I had to listen to my teammates say awful things like, "If I found out one of my relatives was gay, I would beat the gay out of them," and "I wish I could gather all the gay people up in the street and steam role them."
Believe it or not, they really said those things.
I couldn't get away from these people because they were my teammates. Again I felt trapped and alone. I felt like I was never going to be able to be who I was. The one thing that brought me so much happiness, track and field, was the one thing that made me hate where I was in life.
Not all of my teammates were like this. Some of them became my best friends. They accepted me for who I am.
I recently finished my junior year at Indiana State. With the help of great friends and family, I've gathered the courage to come out to my whole team and the rest of my world. To my surprise, everyone I've told has been accepting and supportive. The same people once teasing and tormenting me were now saying they had my back. It has been a relief to finally feel accepted for who I am.
With that acceptance, I finally want to speak out publicly. I want to help break down the same barriers that hurt me so badly for so long. I want to help tear apart the still lingering notion that it's not acceptable to be gay and be an athlete. When I was growing up, there wasn't anyone I could look up to. There wasn't anyone I could look at and say, "They made it through. Everything is going to be fine for me."
If only one struggling athlete reads my story, I want them to see that they're okay and life really does get better. If I can help just one person or change just one life, my struggles will have all been worth it.
You can follow Devin Price on Twitter.
The Indiana State Sycamores compete in NCAA Div. 1 Missouri Valley Conference. Past notable Sycamores include Larry Bird and John Wooden, whose first college coaching job was at ISU.