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‘Find The Joy’: Gay college basketball coach’s amazing year after coming out

Matt Lynch came out a year ago while unemployed and during a pandemic. It was one of the best decisions he ever made.

Matt Lynch standing
Matt Lynch came out as an openly gay basketball coach on April 3, 2020.

“Find The Joy.” This isn’t just a phrase to me, it’s a way of life.

I came out one year ago on Saturday and in the last year I’ve surprisingly said “Find The Joy” more often than I’ve said “I’m Gay.” Last year I made the decision to accept myself for who I am. But since that day, my world has been flipped upside down a couple of times and I’m still figuring it all out.

Luckily, I have great people around me and I am a product of that environment. When people hear that phrase, the word that jumps out is obviously “joy.” But the real significance is in the word “find,” because to find something requires action, and sometimes that action requires you to play a role in your own rescue.

Let’s talk about the slap on the ass that changed my life. One of my best friends and greatest people on this planet is Rob Burke. Coach Burke and I spent too much time together and he had seen me in enough social settings to know that I wasn’t very interested in girls. Since I thought he suspected I was gay, I wrote a note on my phone telling him my secret.

When he finished reading, he got up to give me a what I thought was going to just be a bro-hug, but what he did next ended up changing my life. He slapped me on the ass … hard. Then he looked me in the eye and said, “You probably liked that didn’t you?” and we both erupted in laughter.

It was so “normal” that it took me by surprise. I knew he wouldn’t care, but by him going above and beyond to prove to me that nothing was going to change really put my mind at ease. “The Duo,” as we refer to ourselves, didn’t miss a step after that. Coach Burke’s ability to normalize me as a coach, friend and gay male allowed me to find the confidence to be who I am today.

“The Duo”: Matt Lynch, left, and Rob Burke.
“The Duo”: Matt Lynch, left, and Rob Burke.

I think for anyone out there considering coming out or just wanting support, having someone to talk to is incredibly huge. I invite you in those circumstances to reach out to me. If you don’t want me to know who you are, create a fake email account and type your thoughts out and send them my way. I’ve done that same thing during my time. I’ve been in that struggle and I found a way to persevere through it. So will you!

After I came out, I was nervous and excited at the same time. I saw my Instagram followers grow, but due to the pandemic my human interactions went down. I still had internal concerns about being gay.

The most common things I’ve heard since coming out are “I just don’t see it” or “You don’t act gay.” Sexuality comes in all types of shapes, sizes and colors. Speaking of colors, I love to wear Lokai bracelets because I love what they represent (“Don’t get too high, don’t get too low”).

I decided to order their Rainbow Pride bracelet and start wearing it. I thought it could be a subtle visual to let people know that I am gay. Even something as simple as wearing a rainbow bracelet began to weigh on my mind. I decided to tell the world I’m gay via an article on Outsports, but I was still nervous that people in real life might judge me. People do judge, but you have to look past it. You have to try and find the right things to focus on.

When my story came out, my email and DM’s exploded. I was a little naive going into this whole thing and did not expect the reaction to be what it was. I heard from coaches and players of all levels (NBA, college and high school), the majority of them either identified as gay, or had a close connection to someone in the LGBTQ+ community. It was encouraging to hear them tell me how my story impacted them.

I talked with everyone from old friends to complete strangers. I received a lot of messages congratulating me, in which many shared stories from their own experiences. Those messages were my favorite part.

It was heartbreaking to hear about the number of closeted men in straight marriages who have families. Those guys were happy that I made a decision that they wish they would have also made. If I learned anything from all those messages, it was that we are all more alike than we are different.

So here I was: unemployed, openly gay, during a pandemic. It was a tough spot to be in. But those next six months turned out to be some of the greatest times of my life.

Matt Lynch on the beach
Working out and going to the beach were part of Matt Lynch’s sabbatical.

I am a man of routines. I love a good itinerary. But when you’re unemployed and in lockdown due to Covid-19, you have more time than you know what to do with. I decided to invest that time in myself. For six months I worked out twice a day and then went to the beach. I began to see my body transform, my skin got more tan and my social media audience continued to increase.

Thanks to the platform that Outsports provided me, I saw my profile as a young professional begin to grow. I was invited to speak at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, I was interviewed on multiple podcasts and even had a one-on-one conversation on national television with Tamron Hall on her show during Pride Month.

As all that was going and with the pandemic looming over everything, it made it very difficult to meet other guys. I still haven’t had a boyfriend or been in a relationship, but my time will come. Keep in mind that I was the genius who waited until a pandemic to tell the world I was gay.

I’ve gone on some dates and met some really amazing people, but haven’t landed my first big-time recruit just yet. But “the joy” was easy to find during those six months. I have since referred to that time period as my own sabbatical. I finally took some time to reinvest in myself, something I had neglected to do for a long time.

During my sabbatical, I was also looking for coaching jobs. I am very familiar with the hiring process within the coaching world, but this time it was different. I had two major roadblocks that made finding a coaching job extremely difficult. The first was what made life really challenging for all of us, Covid-19. The pandemic caused a lot of schools to impose hiring freezes and there wasn’t as much movement as there usually is.

Matt Lynch coaching this season with the UNC-Wilmington women’s team.
Matt Lynch coaching this season with the UNC Wilmington women’s team.
Tim Cowie/CAA

The second roadblock was that I was now openly gay and trying to find a job in college basketball. To my knowledge, no openly gay male coach has been hired in men’s college basketball before, but I was up for the challenge. I had never interviewed as an openly gay coach before and I had no idea what to do. Do I bring it up? Do I wait for them to bring it up? There were no blueprints for me to follow so I just had to “shake and wiggle” my way through it.

I ended up being able to land a few interviews and even got down the road with one school. But all of the sudden contract negotiations went cold. And reality started to set in — am I going to be able to get a coaching job? Was being openly gay going to be a factor?

I decided that I needed to have some sort of money coming in, so I began to apply for other jobs. I submitted my application for anything that involved people. I was about to take a job as a restaurant manager when Jimmy Bass, the athletic director at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, called me. I had been fired along with the entire staff from UNCW’s men’s team in March 2020.

Bass wanted to gauge my interest at coming back to UNCW as an assistant coach for the women’s program. Basketball is basketball to me. I could return to UNCW and continue to work with student athletes and be part of a team, two things I love. I accepted his offer and was thrilled to be back. I love those girls and we created many memories that will last a lifetime. They helped me to find the joy in a very difficult season.

Covid-19 has affected us all in one way or another and this season was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. We had practices and games canceled at a moment’s notice, sometimes for weeks at a time. Basketball is a game that is best played when you are in a rhythm, and that was nearly impossible for these athletes to achieve due to the starting and stopping that was constantly taking place. But that wasn’t the worst part of Covid for me.

Matt Lynch with his father and brother.
Matt Lynch with his father, Bill, and brother, Jeremy.

The unthinkable happened when I lost my father, William Thomas Lynch, in late November to this terrible virus. It happened quickly and without warning, and it left a gigantic hole in my heart. He was the best man I knew. He did more than find the joy, he lived the joy every day. He was always laughing and had this appetite for life. I miss him terribly. But he gave me everything I needed to succeed and then some. Since that day I have CHOSEN to live each day for him. I find him in everything that I do. I don’t have all the answers, but I had one hell of a teacher in Bill Lynch. I’m prepared.

The day after my father passed away, I was understandably at one of the lowest points in my life. And on that day, “the joy” came and found me. I was selected to be featured on Forbes “30 Under 30” list. I was aware that I had been nominated, but the official release came out the morning of Dec. 1, less than 24 hours after my dad passed. My phone began buzzing with texts and tweets and it helped give me the push I needed to keep on fighting during a very dark time.

I wanted to make sure to share some things that I have learned since coming out. First, coming out is not a singular occurrence. You will find that you are going to have to come out over and over again. That’s OK and it gets easier every time you do it.

Second, there are a ton of support resources and you are not alone. For example, reach out to Kirk Walker on Facebook. He can hook you up with two great Facebook groups that have more than 2,000 LGBTQ people in sports. That’s 2,000 people with real life experiences, who know how you feel and what you are going through. You can create a blank Facebook page if you want to remain anonymous. I’ve created plenty of blank profiles before myself.

There were periods in my life where I clearly wasn’t ready to be who I am, and that’s OK — this process is a marathon, not a sprint. And finally, it’s not always smooth sailing and some days it’s going to rain. But on that day, call me and I’ll help you find an umbrella. I implore you to have someone in your life who can help you keep things in perspective. Try and make educated decisions, not emotional ones.

Which leads me to my current status. I am ironically right back where I started 365 days ago, unemployed. My time at UNCW has come to an end, and I am in search of my next gig. I am continuing to apply for jobs and I’ve had the pleasure to meet some great coaches over the course of this last year. At this point in my career its not about “where” I work, but “who” I work for. I think I know where that is meant to be, but only time will tell. Fingers crossed!

Matt Lynch sits on the beach.
After coming out, Matt Lynch has never looked back.

Although I am once again in search of a new direction, I have a much different approach to it this time around.

I am who I am and I can say that with more confidence than I ever thought possible. I won’t go into any interviews this year wondering if I should tell them that I’m gay or not. I can confidently look back at these past 12 months and say that the juice was worth the squeeze. I’m just Matt, and that’s all I ever wanted to be.

Matt Lynch, 30, is a college basketball coach with 10+ years of experience. He most recently served as an assistant coach at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He graduated from Edinboro University in Pennsylvania in 2013 with a degree in Health and Education. After graduation he was hired at Miami University of Ohio, where he went on to earn a master’s degree in Sports Psychology. He can be reached on Instagram and Twitter or by email (coachlynch5@gmail.com).

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.