Courage is acting in the face of fear. Kansas State soccer coach Jessica Smith is one of the most courageous people I've met in a long time.
Smith played soccer at the Univ. of Kansas, where she helped the team win its first Big XII championship in 2004 before becoming an assistant coach for the Jayhawks. Coming out several years ago to her Kansas team was "the best thing I ever could have done," Smith said.
She knows the happiness of freedom.
Earlier this year she was hired as an assistant soccer coach at Kansas State. She hopes to some day become a college head coach. At both Kansas and Kansas State, Smith has received "unbelievable" support despite her perception that there may be issues regarding her sexual orientation. "They care so much about me," she said.
Yet she said various people in her life have cautioned her about coming out publicly. When she and I first talked about a month ago, she was excited but wary about the possibility of sharing her story at the Outsports Reunion. Her cousin Eric Wilkerson was helping to host the event in his role at the Center on Halsted in Chicago.
"I'm at the point where I don't care anymore," Smith said last Saturday at the event. "I only care about student-athletes, and that's why I'm here today. ... I will not wait another year for people in the [soccer] community to get to know me better and make sure my reputation is good, while there may be somebody that needs to know that I exist. So I will sacrifice myself to make someone else feel better, and I really truly believe my role is to make young people feel more positive about themselves."
That became reality in the last couple of years, as Smith's being out enabled her to help an LGBT player on her team cope with her own suicidal thoughts. The domino effect at its most powerful.
In her talk, which you can watch above, Smith talked about telling her mom that she liked a girl -- at the ripe old age of 16 -- and it not going perfectly. The problems created suicidal thoughts in Smith's mind. Thankfully, as with so many other LGBT people, it got better. Today Smith is married with a child and coaching at a very high level in the sport she loves.
"I'm here because I have an incredible responsibility to be a leader of young women," Smith said.
I dare you to watch the video and keep a dry eye.
If you are LGBT and coping with thoughts of suicide, call The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.