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Baseball played vital role for gay jock turned doc in his coming out

Before becoming a successful doctor on a TV show, Brad Schaeffer played baseball as he struggled with discovering his true self.

Brad Schaeffer
Brad Schaeffer is a lifelong Philadelphia Phillies fan and played baseball through most of college.

Every kid growing up imagines what their baseball card stats would look like. This Philly kid wanted to throw right, bat right, be a Christian, play for the Phillies and never ever be gay.

Growing up in Pottstown, Pa., a small town outside of Philadelphia, in the 1980s and ‘90s, I played every sport one could imagine, but my life was baseball. Outside of God, baseball was god.

Every night, I would dream of hitting a walk-off home run in the ninth-inning and winning the World Series for the Philadelphia Phillies. My father was my coach, my grandfather was our statskeeper and I felt like the dream of being in the major leagues would someday be a reality.

I wanted to be just like Phillies star Lenny “Nails” Dykstra and outhustle every kid who I played with and against. At the same time that I was a hard-charging jock, I was fighting my internal battles of fulfilling that last line of my imaginary baseball card: Don’t ever, ever be gay.

Being gay definitely was not cool when I was growing up and it seemed every other word out of a kid’s mouth was “that’s gay.” The connotation of gay was always negative, lame and stupid. If you would trip when running to first base, you’re gay. If you struck out, you’re gay.

If you gave another guy a compliment, make sure you say “no homo,” because God forbid we would compliment each other. Athletes were the worst group with this. This is a huge regret of my life because I was not only pushing down my internal struggles with this toxic rhetoric, but I was hurting others who were struggling and looking to me for acceptance. To this day, I never use gay slurs and correct anyone who uses them in my presence.

In 2001, I decided to enroll at Palm Beach Atlantic University, a small Christian school in West Palm Beach, Florida, and joined the baseball team. This was the best of both worlds because I was able to play the sport that I loved and was able to easily hide who I was.

The world of being a Christian athlete allowed me to keep my internal battles where they belonged and was able to “pray the gay away.” These choices led me to meeting a woman who became my wife and to start thinking about a family, which is what any good young straight jock wanted to do. I was I crushing God’s challenges.

Brad Schaeffer played in college for Palm Beach Atlantic University.
Brad Schaeffer played in college for Palm Beach Atlantic University.

During my junior year before the baseball season, I got some pretty symbolic and, at the time, sick ink on my ass: A Phillies tattoo with my wife’s initials, a Christian fish, my baseball #10, and the word HONOR written down the spine! My honor would be tested big time. I was achieving everything I thought God had scripted for me but, internally, I was dealing with so much more.

After our 2004 fall season, I noticed my grades were slipping and my mind was racing faster than I could run around the base paths. I began to realize that I was not going to be a college baseball player any longer and I needed to focus on my grades if I ever wanted to become a doctor. I played for three years in college before hanging up my cleats. Some of my imagined baseball card stats were not shaping out the way I had planned. After all, who was going to play center field for the Phillies if I was going into medicine?

I graduated in 2006 and was accepted to Temple University in Philadelphia. My new wife and I moved into my parents’ basement apartment and I began my medical school journey. This led me to more self-exploration and many professional failures that would really show me what perseverance was. I was failing tests, board exams and, in my mind, possibly life.

My professional failures led me to start dealing with my internal battles. While studying to become a doctor and trying to be the best husband I could be, I was tormented by thoughts such as “Was I gay?” “Is my teacher hot?” “WTF am I looking at and why can’t I adjust like I used to?” After all the years of adjusting to some killer “hooks” or curveballs, this devastating life curveball was rough. And this curveball ended up striking me out.

In 2011, after working my butt off I got into a top-tier residency program in Hoboken, New Jersey, ironically, the birthplace of baseball. Things came to a head when I wound up meeting another married closeted guy in Hoboken and he tried to teach me how he dealt with his two lives and how to compartmentalize both worlds. Maybe, I thought, I was a switch hitter and bisexual and then my updated baseball card would be different. No chance.

After meeting him and trying my best to compartmentalize, I realized that I wasn’t struggling, but searching for life’s answers that were not scripted for me as a straight-acting, Christian, baseball player. Meeting him was like getting struck by lightning.

I wondered why would anyone want to live with these internal battles for the rest of their life. My marriage was struggling and I was not the person I wanted to be. I wasn’t the best husband, son or friend and my life was spiraling out of control.

Brad Schaeffer with his father
Brad Schaeffer with his father. He came out to his dad at a Phillies game.

This insight led me to sitting down with my dad at a Phillies game and, after many Bud Lights, telling him that I was gay. I did not fit the stereotype of what society views as a gay man and my father was pretty floored. After a few minutes and a few tears, he showed me nothing but love and understanding.

We talked through everything, had a few more beers and ended up playing catch outside Citizens Bank Park. Just. Like. We. Always. Did. I was working toward internal happiness, not battling my demons and being a better version of my baseball card.

After many tears and conversation, I wanted to change the narrative with not just my family, but with whoever would listen. I did not want acceptance; I wanted understanding. I was born this way and I wish that I didn’t have the struggles of worrying if I was gay, worrying if I was going to Hell, worrying about the jock rhetoric, worrying about my acceptance in my small Christian world.

In the last 10 years, I have become more fully the kind of person I want to be. I am with the same man I met that fateful day in Hoboken. My now ex-wife and I have gone through our own journey and she is my best friend. I have appeared on “The Titan Games” TV competition and currently am one of two doctors featured in the TLC series “My Feet Are Killing Me.”

I figured it was time to knock down these stereotypes and break out of the boxes. I am a gay jock doc and am constantly evolving, and am still a huge Phillies fan. Baseball card stats change every year and so does each year of our lives. I encourage every person I speak with to take time and understand.

Brad Schaeffer was a contestant on “The Titan Games.”
Brad Schaeffer was a contestant on “The Titan Games.”

I removed the Phillies/Christian fish tattoo and replaced it with one about equality, while not forgetting my journey or where I came from. My updated baseball card now reads: Bats right, throws right, gay and proud.

Dr. Brad Schaeffer is a board certified foot and ankle surgeon in New York City. He can be seen every week on the TLC show, “My Feet Are Killing Me.” He is also a former collegiate athlete and was a finalist on NBC’s “The Titan Games.” Motivational fitness, health, and well-being continue to be among his passions. He can be reached on Instagram (@doctor.bradley) and on Twitter (@DrBradleyDPM

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (kandreeky@gmail.com)

Check out our archive of coming out stories.

If you’re an LGBTQ person in sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and other non-athletes in sports.

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