I’m a Gay College Basketball Player. Should I Come Out?

I am a college basketball player at a Division-I school in the Midwest. I also happen to be ... gay. The only people who know are my mom and a couple of close friends. Not even my coach knows. The state I live in and play in is dead-set against gay rights and gay marriage and would not accept me coming out I don't think. But I am tired of living this lie, it weighs on me every single day and it keeps me up at night. It doesn't affect who I am as a basketball player but I know I would be judged and scrutinized if I came out and I would be subjected to homophobic taunts everywhere I play. My own teammates say homophobic things all the time (they think I am straight). I am also afraid of what the media would do with my story. There aren't many athletes who have come out, it is still far from accepted. It seems like my only real choice is to remain in the shadows with many other gay athletes, but that feels like a false choice. I feel stuck. I'm wondering what you think. Thank you. —Hiding My Truth
Dear Hiding My Truth,

It sounds like you’re caught between powerful opposing forces. If you come out, you fear you will be persecuted by others; if you don’t come out, you write that you will feel as though you are “living a lie.” I don’t think I can tell you what to do. It’s a serious decision that only you can make, from a place deep within your gut. I can look at the issue with you, however, and I hope I can offer you a hand.

In your letter, you write that not many gay athletes have come out, which is true; the protection of privacy is compelling, particularly for people in the public eye. Society as a whole, including the sports environment, is often cruel and inhumane. You mention that your “teammates say homophobic things all the time.” I am sure that’s true, and maybe even worse—sports talk is a largely gendered language specializing in the expression of hostile and sexist feelings, attitudes, and actions which are expressed in the locker room, by the fans, and by many sports commentators as well. “Horse play” is frequently violent. “Boys will be boys” is sadly often an excuse for unacceptable actions. It’s frightening. Yet, you love basketball and want to play it. Why shouldn’t you do something you love and are good at? So one option is to play ball and keep your mouth shut. There is no shame whatsoever in making this choice. Whether you choose to speak up or be silent, both of these choices are valid.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been a fan of either/or choices. It might not be a bad idea to look for a third option. Is it worth considering transferring to a school located in a friendlier, egalitarian area? I don’t know enough about you to know what you might have to lose if you moved. A scholarship, perhaps? Maybe you would be farther from home? You might miss your family and your friends, I’m guessing, and maybe some teammates—the ones not making those nasty comments. And, of course, moving wouldn’t necessarily keep the media from pouncing. You might feel encouraged, though, by the fact other athletes who have come out—the NFL’s Michael Sam, the NBA’s Jason Collins, and swimming star Ian Thorpe among them—have met with considerable support in the media and even the White House.

I don’t know if these thoughts are in fact applicable to your dilemma, since I don’t know enough about your circumstances, but it doesn’t matter, really. You know you have options. Deep inside yourself, you know what you must do. Finding that place within can be difficult, however, so I recommend that you work with a therapist who will enable you to make your own choice, one you can be at peace with.

Again, thanks for writing. I appreciate your painful position and your courage, and I think that with the support of a therapist you will make the best decision for yourself.

Please accept my good wishes.

Take care,

Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • Leave a Comment
  • talia

    August 15th, 2014 at 9:55 AM

    I encourage you to be who you are and feel free to shine as the person that you are on the inside! The last time I checked, one’s sexuality in no way determines whether or not they are a great athlete and it should not determine who your real friends are either! I hope that you find peace with whichever decision that you make, and I wish you the best of luck both on and off the court.

  • Loren

    August 15th, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    Coming out is a deeply personal decision that no one should feel that they have any control over except for you. This is a decision that needs to be made on your time frame and on your schedule, it shouldn’t have anything to do with what anyone else thinks or says.

  • lenny

    August 16th, 2014 at 12:44 PM

    So many issues to contend with there bro that I am not sure that this would eb the best time in your career to openly come out.

    Is there a way that you don’t ahve to necessarily make a huge deal out of it and just continue to be who you are and hang out with who you wnat to? That might make it easier on you all the way around.

    I would just hate to have you bullied all for the sake of you feeling like you have to prove a point.

  • Sarah N.

    August 18th, 2014 at 5:27 AM

    You have to make the choices that feel right and comfortable for you. This isn’t about anyone but you, and if you think that it will feel like you are having to hide too much of your true self by not coming out then I say come out proudly. If you think that this could be a deriment to your career, then maybe you wait until you are a little more firmly establuished and then you make that choice. You have to know what feels right for you at this time, and not what feels right for anyone else. I do wish you the best of luck as you grapple with this decision because I know that it has to be a difficult one to go through.

  • Greta

    September 11th, 2014 at 4:35 PM

    Think about the good that you can do by coming out, but ONLY if this feels like the right time for you.
    I think that if you do this then you will discover that there are a whole lot of men and women just like you who don’t necessraily wnat to be in the headlines but who know that that is where they will find themselves if they decide to openly come out and share their sexual preference.
    You don’t have to do it as a big statement, just go out on a date or something. That would be one way to do it without having to make some huge announcement but at the same time acknowledging that yes, this mis who I am and I am not ashamed of that at all.

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