September always brings about a new beginning for educators as we embark on a journey with new students and classes. For me, as a basketball coach, it means the season is closing in. Fall basketball kicks off almost immediately as we begin workouts, lifting and study hall.
As I do every ﬁrst day of classes, yesterday I checked my mailbox at the school. After I've been gone for a couple of months, it's normally ﬁlled with junk mail. Yesterday was different. Instead of a bunch of advertisements, I pulled out about a dozen envelopes handwritten with return addresses from all over the country.
As I opened the envelopes, each contained a card or letter. Inside were heartfelt words thanking me for sharing my story just as the previous school year ended. One letter writer said she would give me a million dollars if she could, but the letter was all she could afford. New York, Chicago, Columbus and a town in Texas I'd never heard of were some of the return addresses.
I shared some of the letters with my team and reﬂected on what had occurred since I came out publicly 10 weeks ago.
After 35 years I showed my true identity by coming out publicly as a gay high school basketball coach. It felt great to finally be myself, no longer the fraud I had become. I'd thought about it for years, never able to pull the trigger. I had created a blog, emailed various gay sports figures and even broached the topic of a gay teammate with my team. Yet behind the keyboard, I was still locked deep in the closet.
So many people have asked what held me back. It's a simple, one-word answer: fear.
Over the past two months I have used the phrase "fear of the unknown" hundreds of times. It is the easiest way to sum up why I was closeted: fear of rejection from family, friends, peers, coaches and players. I didn't know how they would react, and my fear of the worst-case scenario kept me silent.
The day I came out and national media picked up the story, I sat and waited. The rejection never came. I received nothing but support and praise. Phone calls, emails and social media messages poured in from many people I know, and even more from people I've never met.
More than once over the last few months I wondered why I had not made this decision earlier. My life would have been much more complete had I been able to live openly at an earlier age. Yet I was not ready. Coming out is a process that each individual handles on a different level. Some come out at 18, others at 35, and some never come to terms with who they are. I do not believe it is something that should be jumped into. I think a circle of support is very important. I surrounded myself with good people prior to telling my team. Had things gone differently, those closest to me would have been there to help me bounce back.
Many have asked how I'm different now. Those closest to me say that I am much more lighthearted. Many have said that I am not as defensive as I once was; I've lost the chip on my shoulder. I am more sensitive. Hearing from LGBT people who have attempted suicide or not been accepted for who they are has changed me as a person. At one time I would ignore a topic, so as to not attract attention to myself. Now I feel the need to speak out and say that something is not right.
As an educator and coach I always looked to change the lives of my students and players in a positive manner. I now believe that I can help many others, and, more importantly, I feel that I have to. To many, sports and homosexuality do not mesh, as the weight of masculinity weighs heavily on athletics.
For me, it's time to let people know that gay people can play and coach. I am willing to be an example. Every day I wake up happy to be who I am. I am not the gay basketball coach but a coach who happens to be gay.
As those letters made crystal-clear, there are far too many of us out there for me to stay silent anymore.
Follow Anthony Nicodemo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/coachnicodemo