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Gay coach found his solace, career in throwing a softball

Now a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee, Colin Christiansen knows he belongs.

Colin Christiansen
Photo by Chase Boyle

I always knew I was different — kind of like my career path.

Unlike most males, I learned to pitch the way softball players did. I started at age 10 and completely taught myself. I remember growing up playing baseball, and during warm-ups I would pitch softball to my throwing partner instead of throwing overhand. I used to throw to my sisters, who both played fast-pitch softball.

I knew that this wasn’t the only thing that was different about me. I always had inexplicable aggression and anger, and I didn’t understand the source. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college that I was able to really come to terms with why I was acting this way.

I would pick fights with friends for no reason and I would overreact to things that shouldn’t matter that much. This soon began to affect the way I played sports. In high school I played basketball and soccer. These two sports used to be an escape for me.

Throughout my four years in high school I quickly changed from an outgoing kid who always wanted to be in the spotlight, to someone who would rather spend time alone then hang out with friends. I felt that I didn’t belong. That I was an imposter, living a life that was a lie. I thought that others would be able to sniff out my fear and would discover what I was really hiding. So I elected to seclude myself, thinking that this would help the problem, when in reality it made it worse because I continued to feel more and more alone.

This was around the same time I began to get serious about pitching. My ability to throw a softball in the mid 60s with numerous movements was what was always different about me. It was my escape. I would go into the basement for hours and throw a foam ball off of the wall, perfecting my craft. I joined a men’s fast pitch softball league in the summer and it was the first time in a long time that I enjoyed playing sports again.

Learning this skill later led me on my path to my current career. I began my softball coaching career at Mount St. Mary’s University, a small Catholic university in Maryland as a freshman in college at 19. My older sister played softball at the Mount, and I earned a manager position by my sophomore year. A year later, I was promoted to Undergraduate Assistant Coach.

Along the way, I came to grips with what had been my secret — being gay. When I came out, everything about me changed. I became a much happier person. It felt like a weight was lifted and I could finally breathe. I became a better student and I chose my career path — to coach Division I softball. I finally felt like I could walk around without worrying what others thought of me or how they would take the news.

I am currently a Graduate Assistant at the University of Tennessee with the Division I Softball program. Ever since I was young, I remember watching Tennessee in the Women’s College World Series and thinking to myself that it would be the coolest thing ever to learn from Co-Head Coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly.

Then by 22, I was choosing an intern position from four incredible programs to complete my college degree. I ended up choosing the University of Tennessee and got to work with the Weeklys during the 2016 season. My main duty was throwing batting practice — the one skill that made me different throughout my entire life. I was invited back to join the Volunteers for two more seasons while obtaining my MBA and learning under two of the best coaches in the game.

I came out to friends and family in fall 2014. Once I told one person and I realized nobody was going to turn their back on me, my entire life changed. I finally understood that if someone wasn’t going to accept me, I didn’t want those people in my life anyways. I began telling more and more people, and to this day, I have yet to have a negative response. With each person I told, the unexplained anger I had slowly started to diminish.

There were now two problems. First, even though I had come out to friends and family, I never came out publicly or, more importantly, professionally. I was career-driven and only focused on being the best coach I could possibly be. I gave up the typical college experience to work toward my goals. I missed weekends, parties, and nights at the bar to attend coaching conferences, coach travel ball tournaments, and commute more than an hour to give lessons.

I didn’t want the fact that I am gay to affect the chances of landing my dream job for something as minuscule as my sexual orientation. I spent a lot of time reading different coming out stories and talking to many friends about the decision to come out publicly. I ultimately decided that I wouldn’t want to work for somewhere that wouldn’t hire me because I’m gay, because it doesn’t define me.

As I am going to be a coach, how can I ask my players to give me everything they have and to be themselves and encourage them to reach their fullest potential if I am not willing to do the same? That would make me a hypocrite.

I discovered that this mindset was part of the problem. Telling myself “being gay doesn’t define who I am” was me still in small sense of denial. I quickly realized that I wanted to be on the right side of history and help others who have had similar struggles.

Photo by Chase Boyle

I believe that being gay is the best part about me and it should be celebrated. It is what makes me who I am. It influences me to be kind, caring, and compassionate — traits that I don’t believe I would otherwise possess. But at the same time, I am just like every other person. I am a fierce competitor, sometimes stubborn, and want to be the best at everything I do. So no, being gay does not “define me”, but yeah, it kind of does.

Secondly, I was now going to head south to the University of Tennessee. Some of my friends would ask me if I was afraid to be myself in the South after all the progress I had made. My response was that I hadn’t really thought about it. But this soon became a concern for me.

Upon my arrival in Knoxville, I kept quiet at first and kept my head down and went to work. I became friends with some of the other managers and we began to hang out together. One day when we were all together the conversation of if we were dating anyone came up. The timid part of me responded with a quick no. They continued to ask questions, such as whether I was interested in anyone in Knoxville.

I took a chance and told them no I hadn’t and that I wasn’t sure if they knew but I was gay. I had no idea what was going to come next. They simply responded with, “Oh that’s awesome!” This reassured me that the times are changing. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world. I can always be true to myself.

This allowed me to fully be myself in Knoxville. I was able to be the person I truly wanted to be. Nobody knew me there. I had no expectations of what I should be like, or who I used to be.

This article is the last step on my “coming out party.” I can officially be completely and fully who I am. I am incredibly lucky to be supported by the University of Tennessee softball program, my family and friends. I have had nothing but a really positive and uplifting experience.

I am proud of the person that I have become today, and that happiness came from me finally allowing myself to be the best person that I can be. The journey was tough and it was hard, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Colin Christiansen, 23, is a 2016 graduate at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, where he majored in Sports Management with a minor in Business Administration. He is now getting his MBA at the University of Tennessee where he throws batting practice while also running the teams film software system. His goal is to become a Division 1 softball coach.

He can be reached at:
Email: cachristiansen@email.msmary.edu; Instagram: @thecolinchristiansen; twitter: @thecolinchrist; Facebook.