I was out in high school, but I never had a relationship or anything. All that really resulted from being out was that I was “different” and had more girlfriends than guy friends.
On the Newton South High School track team in Massachusetts I set three school records, was a Divisional State Champion and runner-up at New England championships. So my teammates kind of had no choice but to at least respect me for my athletic feats.
Unfortunately, some of them only did the bare minimum.
It wasn’t uncommon for me to hear slurs tossed around at practice or in the locker rooms (the few times I went in there). I had a few close friend who would regularly call people faggots in front of my face, regardless if that person was gay or not.
My teammates at least had the dignity to never call me a faggot, but they also didn’t stop other people from calling me one, they would just let me know it happened.
While it may have been sappy, for all of high school I just kept telling myself “get to college and everything will be better.” Perhaps the only good that came out of being an outcast was that it motivated me to push myself until I got Division 1 offers.
On my recruiting trip to Brown I met another gay track athlete for the first time. I immediately knew Brown was the perfect place for me. Yet as I got closer and closer to arriving on campus this past fall I got increasingly nervous.
I had only met a small portion of the team on my official visit, so I worried what would happen if everyone else on the team didn’t understand me. I knew that Brown was supposed to be liberal and accepting, but my high school also had a reputation as being liberal. I knew that that was a load of garbage.
I couldn't help but run endless scenarios through my head about my team hating me. I convinced myself that this place that I had worked so hard to get to would end up being just as bad as high school.
Much of the advice I had gotten on being gay at Brown was something along the lines of “everyone is so accepting, just maybe not the athletes.”
When I would tell these people that I would be on the track team and couldn't exactly stay away from athletes, they quickly corrected themselves.
“Maybe just stay away from the football team”.
Just my luck, the random roommate selection paired me with a freshman football player.
After I came out in high school, I dealt with pretty bad depression revolving around my identity. I became very good at acting like everything was fine, but internally I hated being different. I always told myself that things were going to get better in college and I would find people who liked me for who I am, but now I was not so sure if I was right.
When move-in day came around I made sure to hide my mini pride flag, my “Make America Gay Again” hat, and anything else that would out me.
I had officially gone back into the closet.
For the first few weeks, I kept quiet at practice. I was just trying to test the waters and see the environment of the team.
The openly gay athlete that I had met on my recruiting trip, Chris, had graduated that spring – Though he became my “guardian gay-ngel”. It was amazing to finally be able to talk to someone about being gay and an athlete – let alone a gay athlete on a Division 1 team – two things that our society seemingly thinks are far apart from one another.
Being friends with Chris gave me confidence to be my true self, and I began coming out to some of my teammates… just very slowly. Some were surprised, other weren’t. But everyone was accepting. Each person’s reaction brought me increasing confidence… and relief.
When it was time to start telling more people, I finally worked up the courage to come out to my roommate. His response was my all-time favorite.
And that was that! He was so polite and respectful. I felt like such jerk for ever doubting that he would embrace me, just because he plays football. Now he’s one of my closest friends at school and, while I can tell it sometimes bores him to death, he’s my favorite person to talk to about boys.
If you had told me a year ago that I would be able to talk about crushes and boys with a religious football player, I would have laughed in your face. But if I had never given my roommate a chance I would have never known how great of a guy he is. I’m so grateful that he’s given me a chance, too.
The hardest people to come out to were Noah and Kobi, the other two freshman boys in my training group. Every single time the three of us were all hanging out (which was a lot) I would tell myself “this is the time I’ll tell them.” But I’ve found it’s harder to come out to the people you're closest with because they mean the most to you.
One night when the three of us were hanging out with two of our other teammates who already knew I was gay, I was leaving to go hang out with a guy. Noah and Kobi predictably started heckling me to find out what her name was. So, unlike any of the conversations I had pre-planned in my head, I let it all out.
“Her name is Will, and she’s a guy.”
I literally – not figuratively, mind you, but literally – ran out of the room.
Realizing that was a bit dramatic, I went back in and we walked back to the freshman dorms together. They could not have been more reassuring that they accepted me for who I am. It truly made us all closer friends.
After coming out to my whole team, the next step to conquer was the showers.
My high school didn’t have showers in the locker room, so that was never something I had to deal with. In college, my dorm is a solid 20 minutes from the locker room and I often have to go straight from practice to class. The idea of having to shower in the locker room was a nightmare to me. No, I wasn't worried about getting a boner, but I was terrified that my teammates would think that I was “looking.”
Eventually I had to realize that, even if I wore a blindfold, people could still think that I was “looking” at them; I had to just trust that as long as I kept my eyes down, or rather up, my teammates would know that it was nothing more than me just trying to not smell bad in class.
It’s currently the spring, I’m out to my whole team, and my coaches and I couldn’t be in a better place. Are there still times where I wish I could just be like everyone else? Yes. I would not be doing my story justice if I also didn’t mention that I’ve heard fag tossed around in the locker room here. It’s not as if getting to college made everything instantly better.
But more and more I’m able to love myself for being different, and I don’t think I could feel this way without my teammates who love me for being different. I couldn’t be more fortunate for each and every one of them.
To any high schooler reading this, just know that things will get so much better, and you can control that! Work hard and go to a college where you can surround yourself with people who will love you for who you are because you are worth it!
And to any closeted college athletes: You have worked too hard to get to where you are now; Don’t let other people ruin your happiness. And who knows, even the most stereotypically homophobic people could end up being your best friends. You just won't know unless you give them a chance.
Philip Batler is a Brown University freshman majoring in Industrial Design. He received a scholarship in high school from the Boston’s LGBTQ flag football league. He is a long sprinter on the track team. He can be reached at Philip_Batler@brown.edu. You can also find him on Facebook, or on Instagram @PhilipBatler.
Editor: Cyd Zeigler