Sean McKinney, a baseball coach at Colorado Mesa College, has accepted responsibility for making anti-gay comments to his baseball team a couple years ago. The comment, bragging that in Wyoming "We kill gay people," came to light last week in an Outsports article about former player Tyler Dunnington.
Dunnington did not name the coach or the school (he played at three different colleges) because he wanted to have a broader impact on the entire sports culture. The school's internal investigation led them quickly to McKinney, who owned his role in the matter. This afternoon he apologized publicly for his comments, and he called Dunnington to apologize to him personally.
"As the story spread and more stuff was revealed, it got really tough this week," McKinney told Outsports in an exclusive interview. "I'm forever in debt to the people in this university and my friends and family. They know my true character. Some of that is in question, obviously, because of what's gone on with Tyler's story. But I would never harm anyone on our team. This week I'm sure this has been questions about how I feel about Tyler. I hope he's OK. I called him this morning to apologize. I want him to have a good life."
Gay athlete heard 'kill gays' comments in baseball
Tyler Dunnington wants to get back into baseball after spending one season in the Minor Leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals. He quit in 2015 after hearing a coach and teammates talk about killing gay people.
The school has told Outsports it will not fire McKinney, but will instead use his genuine interest in making amends to move the entire campus forward on understanding LGBT issues. Earlier this afternoon McKinney had lunch with a number of LGBT members of the CMU community. He said the stories they shared were eye-opening for him.
"I feel so much empathy. The stories that I've listened to about them coming out and how tough it's been, and the gut-wrenching feeling they've had, is similar to the feeling I've had this week. I want to help them. I want to help raise awareness not just for our team but for our campus."
McKinney said his anti-gay language from the past was the result of lack of awareness. He said he had gay friends but never connected his comments to being anti-gay. It's something we have heard in the past from people like Kobe Bryant, who were raised in a locker room culture in sports that has in the past paid little regard to LGBT people.
"I just haven't paid much attention to it because I don't care what or who anybody is," McKinney said. "I've made some off-the-cuff comments, and one in particular was not right. Tyler heard it, and I apologized for it. Through this process I'm learning everyone's stories and what the impact of our language is."
McKinney said this week has been life-changing for him, at one point realizing his comments could lead to him losing his coaching position. He's grateful for the opportunity to help make change.
"This has been a tremendous learning experience. In meetings with our president and people across campus, I think this is going to go in a very positive direction. I'll focus on my team and my guys to raise awareness. This is an experience we can use to move forward. I've talked to all of our players. We've had conversations, and they've gone great. And that will have a ripple affect across our campus. Lots of people want to be on board with this.
One of those people is associate athletic director Kristin Mort. As a member of the LGBT community, Mort told Outsports she has never experienced anything but respect from McKinney.
"I can attest to the fact that there's a disconnect between what someone genuinely feels and believes, and the crap comments that come out of their mouths," Mort said. "I've never felt disrespected by Sean because of my partnership with my wife."
The school has already engaged One Colorado and the school's gay-straight alliance to install programming across campus to further deepen the acceptance of LGBT people at Colorado Mesa University. The athletic department is also now working with the You Can Play project to bring about story-telling and training within the athletic department to avoid the kind of crude locker room language Dunnington heard from McKinney.
"I know the truth of who I am as a person, and with our culture, we need to continue to grow," McKinney said. "I knew I had to make a change, and I want to be a part of that change, and I’m very thankful that lots of people here want to move in a positive direction."