Last week I had the privilege of experiencing my first, and definitely not my last, Gay Games in Cleveland and Akron. Although I wasn’t participating, just being in the presence of so many LGBT athletes from all over the world was inspiring. It made me reflect on a time when I felt like I was alone, the only openly gay athlete at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. I was the lone gay kicker on the football team, fighting for acceptance on and off the field.
Never in my life had I imagined so many LGBT athletes from a multitude of sports all congregating in the same place for one special event. Here I was no longer alone. Though at times there were some language and cultural differences, our love of sport, good competition and the fact that each of us were members of the LGBT community brought us together. We are a family.
Not only was I able to share my personal story of struggling to be loved and accepted as an openly gay Husker football player with fellow athletes, I also had the honor of hearing other athletes’ stories. Some of these stories were incredibly uplifting, yet some were heartbreaking.
A former Olympic swimmer shared with me how his team and country supported him as an openly gay athlete and were proud to have him represent their country. A former Division 1 basketball player told me how his coach called him into his office one day and told him he had a choice to make -- "You can be gay, or you can choose to play basketball." He, and I use this term loosely, "chose" to be true to himself and to live openly and honestly as a gay man.
We all know that our sexuality is not a choice. My heart ached for him knowing that he had to turn away from the sport he loved because his own coach was uncomfortable with the fact that he was gay. Luckily this basketball player made friends with other gay men who shared a love for basketball, and now he plays competitively in a league and at the Gay Games.
The past year and a half has been monumental in the LGBT sports movement. With the coming out of high profile athletes such as Jason Collins, Michael Sam, Derrick Gordon, and Ian Thorpe, athletes of all ages have found the courage to come out themselves. No longer do LGBT athletes have to feel alone like I did a decade ago. The times are changing.
As the Cleveland Gay Games are proof, there are thousands of LGBT athletes just like you and me out there in this world. Don’t be afraid to live life on the other side of fear. I encourage all LGBT athletes to join me at the 2018 Gay Games in Paris, where I fully intend on competing. #BeTrue.
Eric Lueshen was a kicker on the Nebraska football team from 2003-2005. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter (@Elueshenary).