I wanted to play football so badly ever since I was in junior high school. I'd watch football on TV and wanted to be on the field. I'd just transferred to a new public school and I felt overwhelmed by social pressures. Something inside of me was afraid of talking to anyone new - not easy for a transfer junior high school student.
I steered clear of football out of social anxiety, and I regretted that decision for a long time.
The problem was, I never saw college or pro athletes anywhere close to the LGBT community. When I came out at the age of 19 it was the early 2000s. There were no Jason Collins or Michael Sams. Robbie Rogers wasn't even a teenager. So I figured I certainly wouldn't be accepted in football being gay.
Yet I still had the desire to play. I started meeting other gay guys who had played sports and realized we were out there. As I came out, the regret of not playing built. I wished I could just go back in time and play football.
These regrets went on for 10 years; Even after my diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome it, I just piled on more excuses.
In 2013 I decided to play-act my dream. I got myself some football gear and a matching uniform, just to have that visual image in my mind of "Theo the football player." I saw that image in the mirror and I finally thought, enough is enough. I may have lost out on high school, college, even a shot at NFL. But I wasn't going to go to my death-bed not having played football somehow.
I did a Google search in the Portland area and didn't find any LGBT football teams, or leagues. But I did come across three adult tackle football teams in my area. I wracked my brain, soul searched. You're gay, this is probably the most masculine sport you can find, and you want to try out for a sport you've NEVER played before?
I had never actually been to a game, never even had a serious ball-tossing session with anyone. All I knew is that I wanted to play and I would do anything to play football. I would give it my all.
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In January 2014 I contacted the head coach of the Portland Monarchs, a semi-pro football team in Oregon. I told him that despite my lack of football background I wanted to play. He was forthcoming - I would be a long shot to make the team. But he invited me out because "everyone deserves a chance."
I struggled to get out of my car in the parking lot the day of try outs. I am - how shall I say this - unquestionably gay. My mannerisms and voice are stereotypical and make my sexual orientation apparent. I didn't know how the guys would take this gay guy with no football experience running around the field with them.
When I finally got out of the car, under a weird confluence of events they didn't actually have try-outs. We dove right into the first day of practice. I felt a bit out of place, but that wore off. I just kept going back, week after week, learning everything I could. I paid my player fee and somehow wound up traveling with the team for a game.
When the first pre-season game came around I drove the 2.5 hours to the host team's town. I didn't get in the game until the second-to-last play... when they put me at nose guard. I was training for wide receiver in all of the practices - I'm not that big - but it was at nose guard that I saw my first action. I had no Idea what I was doing, but I got on the field of an official football game with a real team. That was exhilarating.
After the next practice the roster for 2014 was finalized, and I got the notice I didn't make the cut. I was told it was for safety reasons because I was so new to the sport, but they wanted to keep me on in other non-playing roles. My brain didn't hear it. I thought through all of the catastrophic reasons for my release: I've been cut because I'm gay, because I am autistic, because I am too old, because it was never meant to be.
As that season progressed I went to every game, no matter how far away. I wasn't in uniform but I told myself my commitment to the team would surpass any reservations they could have. I took my partner to every game. I never said directly to anyone that he was my partner, and I realized that I was basically exhibiting closeted behavior around the team.
Until this season, I wasn't sure anyone on my team really knew. Yes they might have guessed with the mannerisms and this guy (my partner) coming around all the time. Yet in December I was taking a guy home from practice, and he asked if my partner and I were thinking about marriage or kids in the future. Another time someone accidentally dropped a gay slur at practice. They all looked at me for a reaction. They all knew.
This year I have been way more at peace. My team is inclusive with me and my sexuality. The Portland Monarchs have become the Portland Pit Bulls, and this year I'm on the roster! Sure, I'm down the depth chart at cornerback but I've gotten some playing time so far this season. It's a dream.
Not only have I learned that I can do what I put my mind to, but I've also realized my sexual orientation doesn't mean a thing on the field. The guys on my team have been great.
After reading a couple athletes in college coming out I realized that my story is also a struggle. I was perfectly complacent with being closeted to play football, but I don't need to be. I'm going to keep playing football whenever and wherever I can. I plan on attending Portland Pride this year with my jersey on. Maybe I can give hope to younger players that the world of football isn't as harsh and intolerant as it seems.
Edited by Cyd Zeigler