Being Out is a feature that looks at LGBTQ people in sports who have come out since Outsports first published in 1999. Today: Volleyball player and coach Nathan Matthews.
Nathan Matthews has always been an overachiever.
He was still a teenager when he became the head volleyball coach at a high school in Ohio. He coached the girls team while at the same time getting his degree at Wittenberg University and playing on the school’s men’s volleyball team.
The challenge of balancing being a coach and a student-athlete was not overwhelming for Matthews, 22, who is openly gay.
He graduated summa cum laude from Wittenberg while being named County Coach of the Year in his third and final season at Tecumseh High School. He finished with a 42-28 record.
In high school, Matthews was a two-time Ohio all-state volleyball player, two-time team captain and a finalist for the Wendy’s High School Heisman, awarded to the top male student-athlete in the state. He was also editor-in-chief of the school newspaper and a valedictorian.
“The truth is I wasn’t able to enjoy any of this success,” Matthews wrote in his 2016 coming out story for Outsports while he was a freshman at Wittenberg. “The person getting credit for all these accomplishments was a fraud. In reality, I was scared and desperately trying to keep a part of myself hidden.”
Matthews’ life has been transformed since coming out and this school year he will be teaching assistant at the University of Kentucky as he works towards a master’s in Sport Leadership. He will also transition into a graduate assistant position with Kentucky’s women’s volleyball team with a goal of being a full-time college volleyball coach.
Volleyball is where Matthews met his boyfriend of 2 1⁄2 years, Teddy Hesterman. They played volleyball together at Wittenberg for a year before they start dating during Matthews’ sophomore year and Hesterman’s junior year.
Here are Mathews’ responses to our Being Out questions:
What do you love the most about volleyball?
To put it simply, I love the people. I have met some of my closest friends, most influential mentors and my boyfriend through volleyball. As a coach, I have had the privilege to help teach and develop some incredible young people that have truly enriched my life. However, the volleyball community goes even beyond that. Even in meeting strangers, if you have volleyball in common then you immediately feel connected.
What does it personally mean to you to be LGBTQ+ in sports?
I am so thankful that I am able to openly and proudly be myself while still pursuing my dreams. I am immensely grateful to those who have come before me and made the opportunities I have today possible.
With that being said, I am very aware that not all LGBTQ people in sport have found the same acceptance and opportunities that I have experienced. Because of that, I feel an obligation to live my truth visibly and to continue to fight for LGBTQ inclusion in sport.
What advice would you give to LGBTQ+ kids in athletics or who want to participate in athletics, the kind of advice the younger you wish you had heard?
The biggest piece of advice that I wish I had heard as a young athlete is that LGBTQ athletes do exist and that you don’t have to be afraid.
As a young gay athlete I truly felt like there was no one else like me. Further, I felt as though being gay meant I couldn’t achieve things I wanted to achieve as an athlete.
What I needed to overcome these perceptions and fears was a role model. I needed someone who could show me I wasn’t alone and that I could still be a successful athlete. Today, I hope to be that example.
Who is someone who inspires you?
Megan Rapinoe has been a huge inspiration for me. She sets such an awesome example of unapologetically being yourself and using your platform to make the work a better place.
Her ability to carry the flag for several causes while also performing at a never before seen level on the biggest stage was amazing to watch. Not to mention, she’s just an absolute badass.
What are you passionate/excited about right now?
I am very excited about attending graduate school at the University of Kentucky. Learning from the best volleyball coaching staff in the country and being around some of the very best players is an opportunity I never dreamed I would have.
Also, I recently found out I was a recipient of the NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship, which will help me pay for grad school. That was certainly a very exciting surprise as well.
What is your most memorable sports moment?
All of my most memorable sports moments revolve around teams coming together and becoming greater than the sum of their parts (maximizing their potential). I have recently had the privilege of being part of two moments where that happened and I’d like to share both of them.
The first was this past spring during my senior season at Wittenberg. After the first round of conference play, we were sitting at 4-3 and were in fifth place in the conference standings (only the top four teams make the tournament). We rallied around our 10-man senior class and turned the season around in a major way.
We went on a 10 game winning streak to finish the season and ended up winning the regular season conference championship. Being a part of the class that started the program four years ago made leaving with a conference championship that much sweeter.
The other moment was serving as the assistant coach for the OVR boys select team that won the bronze medal at the 2019 High Performance Championships in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The amount of adversity the team battled through was unbelievable — everything from an injury to one of our top players to a literal emergency water outage that shut down the tournament. In the end, the team came together to pull off an incredible upset of Arizona Region in the bronze medal match, winning 19-17 in the fifth set.
Nathan Matthews, 22, is a teaching assistant at the University of Kentucky where he is also volunteering with the women’s volleyball team. He grew up in Gahanna, Ohio, and graduated from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio this spring. He can be reached at Nathan.Matthews@uky.edu or on Instagram and Twitter.
If you are out in sports in any capacity as openly LGBTQ and want to be featured in Being Out, drop Jim an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).