Nile Clark could hear how LGBT acceptance has changed in his lifetime as he listened to Brian Vahaly answer questions about his husband on Sports Illustrated’s “Beyond the Baseline” podcast.
Clark, a member of the University of Miami men’s tennis team, was born in 1995, just two years before Vahaly started playing tennis at the Univ. of Virginia.
“Brian is an amazing player, and I have only dreamed about accomplishing some of the things he's done on the tennis court,” said Clark, who identifies as bisexual. “The main difference between our college experiences is the time we were in school.”
The podcast was Vahaly’s first time talking publicly about his husband, and Vahaly also talked about his fear of expressing same-sex attraction while an active player.
“It felt like a variable that at that point in time was something that I didn’t want to add fuel to,” Vahaly said on the podcast. “You didn’t want to rock the boat.”
This spring Clark completed his junior season at Miami, and he feels no hesitation being himself and playing Atlantic Coast Conference men’s tennis.
“I'm going to school in a time where same-sex marriage is legal, which creates a different environment socially, and that definitely eases things for me,” said Clark, who is talking about his sexuality for the first time with a media outlet. “There are also several LGBTQ athletes that have come before me and kinda lifted that weight off of me.”
Clark said he never struggled with self-acceptance or acceptance from friends and family regarding his same-sex attraction. His impediment has been people understanding bisexuality.
“People just think people will use it for a transition to, ‘Oh, I’m gay,’” Clark said. “That’s a challenge that I have.”
He recognized his bisexuality around first grade when he simultaneously had a crush on a girl in his class and The Princess Diaries actor Erik von Detten. The feeling didn’t seem wrong.
“It hasn’t really been confusing for me,” Clark said. “I was exposed to same-sex relationships very early on.”
Clark grew up in Philadelphia. He had a grade school teacher with a partner, and he had friends with two dads.
In sixth grade, he saw a guy on a reality show identify as bisexual, and it gave Clark a label for how he felt. He texted one of his friends right away.
According to Clark, the friend’s response was, “That’s fine. That’s cool.” In the ensuing years, responses from friends, family, coaches and teammates have all been in the same vein.
“I don’t have those ups and downs and pains and struggles in that area of my life,” Clark said.
He acknowledges people may make negative comments about his sexuality when he is not around, but he never heard or saw a negative response. Confusion is more common.
“I feel like, for me personally, it doesn’t need that much explaining. If you like dudes, OK that’s what you like. If you like girls, that’s what you like. I just happen to like both. It doesn’t seem like that hard of a concept to grasp to me. That’s what’s annoying.”
Occasionally he understands someone’s confusion because of the way he talks to certain people. Around straight girls and gay guys, he mostly talks about his attraction to guys, and around straight guys, he tends to talk about his attraction to girls.
“It’s not something that I really do consciously,” Clark said. “It’s just something when you’re with people that have like interests, you’re going to share those like interests more than what you don’t have in common.”
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Clark is coming off his most successful college tennis season. During the spring he went 5-6 in singles matches and 12-3 in doubles.
Now he hopes that talking about being bisexual can help take the weight off LGBT athletes that come after him.
“A lot of people struggle with their sexuality,” Clark said. “Me as a D1 athlete — I don’t think of me being anything great — but maybe that could affect someone else.”