When Marc VandeWettering met Wisconsin basketball coach Greg Gard in 2017 to interview about the director of basketball operations job, it was what Gard did not care about that mattered the most.
“Coach Gard evaluated me for my current job just like anyone else and that’s all I could ask,” VandeWettering writes in an essay for the Wisconsin athletic department where he came out publicly as gay. “There wasn’t an asterisk next to my name. It was ‘Can he do the job?’ I was fortunate that he chose me to come back and it’s been an incredible experience since. The guys in the locker room have been so supportive of me. It’s a two-way street for a lot of them because I may be the first gay man they’ve ever met or talk to. It’s been an education for all of us.”
VandeWettering would seem like the perfect fit for the job — two-year starter on his high school basketball team, class valedictorian, University of Wisconsin grad who rose from the ranks of student manager to program assistant to a detour with the Big Ten before landing his current role. He enters his fifth season with the Badgers, now as an out gay man, a rarity in Division I sports.
In discussing why he came out publicly, VandeWettering stressed the importance of visibility:
“I don’t want anyone else to have to go through those feelings of maybe having to change careers because they can’t be openly gay and work in major college men’s basketball,” he wrote.
“I’m currently the only openly gay man on a men’s college basketball staff in Division I — that’s a total of 357 schools — and that has to change. There are more out there. But it starts with them knowing they can say their truth, live their truth and work in this space. It’s on all of us in men’s college basketball. It’s up to us to promote inclusive environments and make sure that, no matter what, we’re making everyone comfortable. That includes closeted coaches, athletic trainers, DOBOs, student-athletes and, to my former self, student managers. There’s a bit of a barrier in men’s college basketball that needs to be broken down and I’m hoping that writing this can start chipping away at that.”
VandeWettering’s powerful essay will resonate with LGBTQ people in its description of life in the closet, the fear and exhilaration of coming out, dealing with his family and faith and trying to navigate a sports world that can seem closed to people like him. It’s cool that UW highlighted his story for Pride Month.
I encourage you to read the whole essay since the opener is a grabber and I found it unique and inspiring:
“I have a tattoo on my left bicep that serves as a testament to the most important moment in my life. It’s a constant reminder of the love that I felt after I told those closest to me that I’m gay.
“It’s an equality symbol with the sound waves of all my family members saying “I love you” filling the top bar. The bottom bar? The most powerful day of my life. Dec. 26, 2015. The date I came out to them, written in Roman numerals. My favorite part of it all is that I can scan it with my phone and it will play the sound of their voices back to me. I do it every year on that date and it always brings me indescribable joy.”
You can follow VandeWettering on Instagram.