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A gay coach offers Tony Dungy some coaching

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High school basketball coach Anthony Nicodemo explains why allowing gay athletes to be themselves is the best thing a coach can do for his team.

Scott Halleran

Dear Coach Dungy,

My name is Anthony Nicodemo and I am a high school basketball coach who happens to be gay. After living in the closet for 35 years, a year ago I opted to be myself and life has been awesome ever since.

Yesterday I came across your comments regarding Michael Sam and how you would not have drafted him because "you wouldn't want to deal with it".

Now as a coach I am in a different stratosphere when it comes to success. I have coached high school and college for 18 years, but I like to think that I have positively affected many of my student-athletes' lives.

Why would you not want your players to be themselves? If you had a gay player on your team (and I am sure that at some point you have), wouldn't you want him to be in the best physical and mental state?

In my experiences, I could tell if one of my players is not mentally "right" immediately. Be it a fight with his girlfriend or problems at home, many times I can pick up on it quickly. If it is a practice day, one player's poor attitude can cause the entire session to be lackluster. If it happens to be a game day, the outcome can be worst.

Imagine the player who is forced to live two lives. The one who talks about women with his teammates and how much he enjoys them, but each night goes home knowing his life is a lie. Having lived that life I know how draining it can be. As a teacher, I am not in the spotlight. A professional athlete is another story. The charade has to be exhausting, yet we would expect him to perform on the field or court just like everyone else.

I would love nothing more than for each player to enter the gym with clear minds and focus on the task at hand. My team would flourish and the benefits would be fruitful. Every athlete that I have spoken with has had more success in their sport after being able to be themselves. All have been embraced by their team.

As a coach I always consider myself an educator and someone who is preparing my players for adulthood. I understand that being a professional carries very different responsibilities. But you are still a role model. Somewhere in America today a young, gay closeted athlete read your comments and decided to stay in the closet. His team suffered for it.

When school opens he will head to the field and perform nowhere near his potential. His secret will consume him and always be in the back of his mind. He will go home at night and question who he really is. Hopefully he is strong enough to survive until he is ready to reveal his true self. In many cases, the opportunity never comes.

Whether I am coaching high school, college or in the pros I hope my players can always be themselves. The environment will be healthy and this will lead to success on the court.

Hopefully most coaches feel the same and will be happy "to deal with it".

Sincerely,

Anthony Nicodemo
Head Boy's Basketball Coach

Saunders High School