The middle of November means the start of another basketball season. It will be my 17th season as a coach, and my fifth at Saunders High School. The anticipation of the first practice is intense: I rarely sleep the night before. Months of off-season workouts, lifts and scrimmages lead to this day when a new journey begins. It's the one time that all teams are even in the win column and can dream of what is to come.
We tend to practice later in the day so that we can hold various team activities beforehand. Study hall, lifting and film sessions usually serve as a prelude to practice. In between sessions I head to the office to review my notes while the players prepare to take the court. Some head to the locker room while others handle some personal stretching.
The locker room seems to hold a special lore in sports culture. Hollywood feeds us iconic scenes of rousing speeches and moments. Players are believed to engage in meaningful conversations about life. Some believe that athletes walk around with no clothes, playing grab-ass and whipping each other with wet towels.
The latter could not be further from the truth. The misperception about this has always made me laugh. In most cases the image couldn't be further from the truth. My players spend very little time in our locker room: A few minutes before and after practice is pretty much the extent of it. On most days I don't even enter the locker room, as there really is no need.
Of course, as I write this, video surfaces of former Kentucky Wildcat star Anthony Davis, naked in the locker room, apparently being spanked by teammates. I certainly have never seen anything like this during my career, and I hope that it is a very race occurrence. The issue of hazing and bullying is a whole different subject that I hope to write about at another time.
When I came out to the team and the media picked up on the story, the subject of me being in the locker room -- and the perceptions that came with it -- became somewhat of a point of contention.
Some (all anonymously) said I should be fired for ever being in that setting with the athletes. Being a gay male, I must be looking at my players and thinking sexual thoughts! Some people's thought processes are completely asinine. Being attracted to those of the same sex certainly doesn't mean that the person in question is attracted to everyone of the same sex!
Fearing that one person would use locker room myths as a tactic to remove me from my position scared me to death. One crazy parent could turn my life upside down and take me away from something I love. Rather than risk this, I stayed closeted and lived a secret life.
Attending the #betrue summit in Portland changed my thought process. I really had never met any LGBT sports figures. When I arrived at the summit, I was surrounded by so many people with similar interests. Who knew that so many gay people were involved in athletics? (There was a touch of sarcasm there.) I felt so in my element, and I knew that I would have support no matter what the outcome of coming out might be.
The public's association of pedophiles with gay men is a complete joke. How many successful men coach female sports? Are they asked to resign because they are attracted to females? Come on, there are men coaching women of all ages, and there is no public outrage.
That's because there is nothing to be outraged about. Being gay does not make you a pervert, despite what a small group of ignorant people in this country love to say, just like a man coaching women does not make that coach a pervert.
So after hearing "be careful with the kids!" for the past few months, the basketball season has begun. As I'm sitting in the office, a few of the players come in and start dressing for practice as we discuss the upcoming practice session. There is no discomfort. There is no mistrust. It's just another day for the Saunders basketball family. Players are still players, coaches are still coaches, and the goal of winning games in December is still the focal point.
The kids are not the problem. They get it. The problem is the adults who do not.