I usually end up with a hopeless feeling after a discussion of a man “coming out” within an hyper-masculine subculture, such as the military or certain athletics. It is completely illogical that a man who has come up through the warrior-like atmosphere around something like football would somehow be committing some irreparable offense to his peers by disclosing one little difference in his sexuality. Even with our current understanding of what it means to be gay, we still find certain subcultures that revert gayness back to something out of Turn of the Century, when there were men, women, and fairies. In a remarkable coincidence, Ohio State University’s head football coach Jim Tressel comes as a beacon of hope with his recent interview with Outlook Columbus. The interview can be found on page 32 of the publication’s “Queers & Sports” March issue.
It is believed that Tressel is the first head coach in major college football to speak with a GLBT publication. But what I found most important is that this might be the safest, most effective avenue for an active football player to come out. Everyone wants to see a star professional player become the pioneer for gays in the most “masculine” sports. How likely would it that really be? Maybe some of the players closest friends on the team would support him, but a professional locker room is not the cohesive group it strives to be. In the setting of collegiate athletics, the players might be impressionable enough for a coach as respected as Tressel to build a welcoming enough environment for one of his players to come out.
“We strive to teach and model appreciation for everyone. One, we are a family. If you haven’t learned from your family at home that people have differences and those strengthen the whole, then you are hopefully going to learn it as part of the Ohio State football family.
The greatest achievement we can have as coaches is that a young man leaves us with a concept of who he is, what he wants from life, and what he can share with others — someone who is ‘comfortable in his own skin,’ and that identity can go in a number of directions.”
Sure, Tressel’s words sound pretty idealistic, but I have hope that a coach with that much influence and control over his program could make it possible for one of his players to come out. Just the step Tressel took in speaking with a GLBT publication starts setting the right kind of tone. Homophobic teenagers, administrators, parents, and assistant coaches could easily stifle an accepting environment in the politics of high school athletics, but who can really challenge someone with the success and reputation of Tressel?
I hope that this leads to more college coaches being involved in GLBT issues and that their players start following that lead. We’re a long way from the times of Gay New York, and it would be nice if our overtly masculine institutions gave up on the antiquated notion that gays are inherently fairies.