I could not tell you the first time I picked up a basketball, and I definitely could not have predicted the path in life I would take in sports in general, both on and off the playing surface.

I know that my oldest sister played first, and because I wanted to be cool like her, I followed along. It has, in some ways, become a family thing. I do remember, however, inexplicably being hooked on it. The memories of basketball all run together from my childhood on, because it is a game I have spent so much time on, between youth leagues, AAU teams, a year of high school basketball, some more AAU, intramural, and now a competitive gay basketball league in Boston.

Between my siblings and me, there are probably enough basketball uniforms and shorts for my mother to sew a quilt that stretches across the state.

It is also a game that has angered me, a game that has motivated me, and a game that has reconciled various parts of my life. I have written before, and write again now, about how basketball was something I fell out of touch with when I ran into obstacles. When things got tough, I threw my hands up and said that I could not do it anymore. I could not fight with high school politics; I could not fight with the heterosexual masculinity within basketball, and I could not handle hiding my sexuality within sport.

After being cut from my high school basketball program, I continued playing AAU basketball, but I never really connected with it the way I so desperately tried. I believe high school culture and politics influenced it, as I was clearly different than my peers, and I was not one of the “guys”. Albeit some of it was competition, I also knew I was not willing to play the game of politics in high school and pretend to be a person I was not.

Upon being cut my sophomore year, despite being told by the coaches I had done everything they had asked me to do in the off season, I felt lost. I had goals. I had aspirations. All of them included sports. For a brief period of time, however, basketball was not a part of my identity anymore.

It felt at the time like basketball walked away from me, but I now know that I walked away from it. I did not love it the same way anymore, and on top of that I was struggling internally to find acceptance. I could not pretend to be happy anymore playing a game that was robbing me of things I was learning to value off the court.

I came out what feels like a long time ago (and I am pretty sure that no one really cares about that anymore because it is old news), but I came out really during a time where sport was not something I actively participated in. I watched it, hell I even worked in it, but I did not really desire picking up a basketball and trying to make it mine again.

I was a kid in college trying to figure out how the hell he was supposed to become an adult, trying to take advantage of every opportunity a college offered me that was probably more expensive than my parents liked. They were sacrificing a lot, as were others in my life, to put me through college and so I built up pressure on myself to do it all. To do everything and anything to set myself up for a future.

Deep underneath all of that, I was breaking. The foundations of my life had crumbled in small ways yet again when I found myself immersed in sports and unsure how to merge my identity as a newly out gay man and the intern responsible (while learning about) for marketing and sponsorships at the collegiate level. I felt like I was failing under the pressure, trying to be so openly gay in my personal life without being gay at work. That does not work. That feeling of failure, of disappointment, is one I never want to feel again.

When I started coming out freshman year of college, I’d tell one person and wait for something negative to happen. By my sophomore year, I stopped selectively coming out to people and just made an announcement on social media to my friends, both in New York and back home in Massachusetts.

But in the athletic department at Marist, I refrained from coming out to any employees and actually telling them. It was a juxtaposition of my life-I was out as a person but not as a professional. Eventually, those bridges came together in my life and it was all one in the same. It was actually my close friend Tom, and eventually my supervisor, who brought up to me, and since they brought it up…I instantly felt safe addressing it.

When I joined the Boston Gay Basketball League in the Fall of 2015, I did it with the intention of simply meeting other gay men who played sports.

For four years in college I unknowingly fulfilled the typical role of gay friend to many. I loved to go out, to dance, to get sushi with my best girlfriend and gossip about the drama in our lives. I was fulfilling an effeminate role I did not acknowledge at the time, something I always told myself I would avoid. Not because I buy into the idea of masculine or feminine as good or bad, but because I wanted to be seen as a person vs. a gender stereotype.

My own best friend, Adam Kemp, a former men’s basketball player at Marist and current professional overseas, would constantly encourage me to get back into basketball, to walk onto the basketball team, to stop limiting myself. I regret never having listened to him.

I now have nothing to fear and nothing to hide. I was never the star of the varsity basketball team. I was never a walk-on at the collegiate level, nor was I even a manager of a varsity basketball program. I was an intern working in sports because I felt it was my last attempt to bridge the gaps in my life.

I now have nothing to fear and nothing to hide.

I saw men like Golden State Warriors president and COO Rick Welts, who came out publicly in 2011, begin to be public examples of gay men in sport. I felt it was possible. If I could never play a sport and make a difference as a role model I sorely needed when younger, then I would work in sports to influence and impact change.

On a much smaller scale than Welts, I did just that. I was never afraid to be myself once I realized that the people around me did not care about my sexuality, they simply cared whether pre-game scripts were done, the press room was organized and prepared, and the T-shirts were rolled up for cheerleaders and the dance team. That was what people cared about, and that was my job. I did it, and though I currently work in College Admissions here in Boston, I aspire to come back to working in sports in academic advising for student-athletes in the future.

Regret is an ugly feeling. I wish I had not let adversity in various ways influence the game I still loved to play. I wish I had done everything I could to show the people in my life that you can be openly LGBT+ and flourish in sports.

The beauty of it now is that I can. I’ll fight against HB2 in North Carolina, demand equality for LGBT+ athletes from the NCAA, and of all things, remember that if I continue to “BeTrue” that I’ll inspire someone else to be their everything in sports.

You can on Instagram or Twitter @bross_mike.

Story editor: Cyd Zeigler

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