Denis Finnegan is a champion. A national champion. And he’s been a national champion 10 times over. That’s some real dominance. Few people in the world, in any sport, can claim that many titles over a decade.
Finnegan also happens to be gay. That’s not something lost on him. While it’s been just a small part of who he is as a person, and an even smaller part as an athlete, in recent years he has drifted more and more to coming out publicly not for himself, but to help other LGBTQ people in sports — and in particular track and field — who may feel alone.
“For younger people it will hopefully give them more confidence in what they’re doing,” Finnegan told me on my Five Rings To Rule Them All podcast. “There are still people who are scared or unsure of what’s happening, so I hope just telling my story might help one person notice there’s more acceptance out there.”
In the podcast interview, Finnegan talks about why he drifted toward track and field and away from team sports like basketball and Gaelic football, which he played as a youth.
“Athletics was always a place that, because it was quite mixed, it was a place I could have gotten away from everything,” he said.
It’s a theme we’ve heard from many gay men, who drifted away from the locker-room machismo environments of team sports and embraced individual sports like track and field.
“I think those sports, because they were a team sport with males, there were times when it wasn’t comfortable,” Finnegan said. “Athletics was always my favorite sport, it was always the sport that was the one that was the most open. I’d be training with girls, I’d be training with guys, and I think that did help a bit. I was never worried about any kind of comments on the track. But when I was going for, say, football, it was more of an issue.”
For Finnegan, sports was a part of his identity, and finding a way to continue in sports beyond his university days was important to him.
“I loved sport and my whole family was sporty. I’d want to be doing the sports, but there was a part of them I wasn’t enjoying at all.”
The interview with Finnegan was raw and real, discussing the impact of being publicly “closeted” on his personal life, as well as other aspects of his public and private journey.
When I asked Finnegan if there was anything else he wanted to be sure to add, he pointed to a speech by Theodore Roosevelt that has resonated with him over the years.
I paste it here because it reflects with so much of what Finnegan told me about being one person in a sport trying to earn accolades and make change:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
Inspiring words about the power of being in the game, and being out in the game.
That speaks to the man that Finnegan is, as well as the hopes and dreams of a national champion to contribute to an international conversation about the acceptance of LGBTQ people.
You can listen to the entire interview with Finnegan on the player above.
You can follow Dennis Finnegan on Instagram at the_reality_of_denis.