Look out, Ferris State University: There’s a new gay in town and he’s here to leave his mark.
This was my motivation in the fall of 2012 entering my freshman year at Ferris State University in Michigan. I came in with the mindset that I was not going to let anyone tell me who I am. I define myself.
My first year at Ferris State, I had came out to my roommate and hallmates. They were thrilled to have me as a G.B.F. (gay best friend). I went through my freshman and sophomore years having the courage and confidence to be myself.
In 2014, I had applied for a job within the athletics department as Student Athletic Trainer. With my knowledge of sports this would be the kind of job I would enjoy and stick with until I graduated.
Getting up Monday through Friday at 6 a.m. to be at work at 7 to prepare to be student athletic trainer was both challenging and rewarding. Soon I was working closely with the student-athletes on the football, hockey and basketball teams.
I decided I was going to be honest with the athletes I was working with. The best advice I got was: “Some may approve of you, some may not understand it, but never let it define you and get in the way of doing your job.”
I remember how nervous I was for my first football practice, with my palms getting clammy, as I anticipated the guys asking for assistance. But all nervousness left me was when I was greeted warming by some of the players I knew from having shared classes with them.
As a gay man, I had a great support system from the teams I worked with. I was the players’ helping hand when they needed snacks to get them through practices or a game; their shoulder to cry on; their advisor, trainer, water boy and brother. Most importantly, I was their ally.
I grew especially close to guys from some of the teams. We hung out at their apartments before class, before and after practices and occasionally the bar. To quote a couple of football players who spoke fondly of me: “Justin is that guy who will bend over backwards and forwards for the team. No pun intended.” Said another: “Justin left an impression on all of us on the team.”
When it came to hockey it felt like I was one of the guys. Maybe it was the love of the sport or that they felt comfortable and accepting of me. One hockey player said when I asked him how he felt about me working with the team, said, “Justin, you’re as cool as ice in a hockey arena. It’s not just myself thinking that but the other dudes feel that way too. Also you give great advice” about women.
A fellow student athletic trainer and I grew close, and he once said “Justin and I had mutual likes and dislikes (the girlfriends of some of the boys) that formed our friendship quickly. I’ve always been an ally but he had exposed me to the community more than what would have been exposed to in my small home town of Port Huron, Michigan.”
Dealing with more than 100 football players, 17 basketball players and 30 hockey players I formed friendships and had my favorites. Those were the one I had a side crush on or I grew the closest too. Watching these men grow up from freshman into seniors brought me joy.
Senior Days are the days I dread because they are so emotional. It’s the day when the senior student-athletes are highlighted for their triumphs and successes while attending and playing at Ferris State. I had cried at every Senior Day from my first one in Spring 2014 until Spring 2018.
Being a trainer broadened my horizons and gave me friendships I will forever cherish. I am delighted to see alumni from our sports pursuing greatness in the NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL. Being an openly gay student athletic trainer had its downs but mostly ups. My sexuality didn’t define me. As Beyoncé once said, “Your self-worth is determined you. You don’t have to depend on someone to tell you who you are.”
Since I was 8, I knew I was gay and am proud of growing into the man I am today. I am grateful to the Ferris State University Athletics Department for hiring me and giving me the best job anyone could have in college.
Justin L. Stevenson graduated in 2018 from Ferris State University with majors in Restaurant Food Industry Management and Hotel Management and minors in Club Management and Special Events Meeting Planning. He can be reached on Facebook: Justin La’Marr Stevenson; Twitter: Jaaay_Duuurty; Instagram: mistah_lamarr or via email (justinLstevenson2012.firstname.lastname@example.org)
Story editor: Jim Buzinski