Dear College Football Players,
Back in the 80s, I was a UCLA cheerleader who was constantly mistaken for a UCLA football player. I was also a closeted fag, homo, gay guy, bi curious?— whatever you wanna call it. I wasn’t sure. On the inside I was dazed and confused. On the outside I looked like one of you guys.
I played football before I ever dreamed of college cheerleading. Growing up in a sports family in Indianapolis, I played the Big 3 and went up against little league and junior high kids who later made names for themselves, including the late Oakland Raider Stacey Toran.
So you see, like you, I was a kid with sports dreams who played competitive sports against the best talent available.
Like you, those dreams led to life lessons and lifetime highlights, like playing in a hoop tournament in Lexington, KY, at the old Memorial Coliseum, and scoring a defensive touchdown in junior high, when my bad ass sacked the QB, grabbed the ball midair and scampered 20 yards to the end zone (or was it 70?). I had my moments. I had my dreams.
“Your dads’ generation couldn’t bear to think about the subject of gay guys, let alone talk about it.”
But homophobia in sports was too big a monster for a confused kid like myself. So this confused kid bowed out of competitive sports circa age 16, you know, around the time a man’s body is working on his orientation. My body was telling me I was a fag. My greatest fear was my teammates finding out. To avoid persecution, I quit sports, forever confining my abilities and ambitions to the sideline.
One time, I was at an alumni function as a UCLA cheerleader and this UCLA recruiting coach told the audience that it was all about getting guys with prototype bodies like mine. The rest of the cheer squad laughed. They were used to the comparison.
In the 70s and 80s, I wasn’t the only kid in America who felt he had to choose between playing sports and being gay, and were I a young athlete today, I wouldn’t be the only kid in America who still feels he must make that same choice. Does this seem right in your heart? Any college football player ready for a change?
Imagine the young men of today, dazed and confused by the choices, labels and consequences of playing the Sexual Orientation Game in the Internet age. Some of those young men went to college to play football instead of cheerlead. Imagine their prototype bodies being molded into great athletes. Imagine them receiving great coaching on the field and solid support off the field. Imagine those young prototypes practicing, studying, laughing, smiling, growing, indeed, living with the joy of knowing full acceptance for who he is. Imagine him knowing you’ve got his back no matter his sexual orientation.
You’ve already pumped iron with a gay teammate. You’ve already taken a knee together and listened to Coach. You’ve already been sequestered together, eaten together, showered together, traveled together, dreamed of a great season together, made a commitment to working together as teammates for the greater good of the team. You’ve already survived practicing, studying, laughing, smiling, growing, indeed, living with and dreaming with men who think of themselves as gay, bi, homo, swingers, undecided, and so on.
“You are part of a new generation of jocks who view sex and sexuality in a whole new light.”
You know how fucked up your mojo gets when your girl messes with your head and the next thing you know, you’re in a crazy argument? You know the madness of a really bad breakup? Your gay teammate could be going through some of the same drama. Think it would help if he could acknowledge his life the same way you do when you’re bullshitting over beers?
Which is doing better by your teammate? Ignoring who he his? Refusing to accept who he is? Not permitting him to talk about who he is? Or are you being a better teammate by acknowledging him for who he is? Accepting him for who he is? Allowing him to be who he is in the exact same ways that you allow your other teammates to be who they are? How do you support your bros? Your dawgs? Your teammates?
Your dads’ generation couldn’t bear to think about the subject of gay guys, let alone talk about it. But that’s not you, young jock of the 21st century. You’ve been exposed to homosexuality in ways unprecedented in human history. Today’s college football players are part of the first American generation to come of age watching Ellen on television and porn on the Net. The jig is up. You’ve seen it all. You’ve all seen men being men and it’s not as big a deal to you. You all know any kind of man can be the kind of man that (fill in the sexual blank).
You are part of a new generation of jocks who view sex and sexuality in a whole new light. So lighten up, dudes, about your teammates traveling their own unique path through the Sexual Universe. Fags, gays, bi’s, goy, down low, drunk one night, poor one month, horny one minute, talked into it by your girlfriend, whatever. None of the labels really matters. What matters is your teammates being able to focus on football, their studies and life in general without feeling lost and alienated because of their sexual journey.
Twenty-five years ago, I was a young black man gifted with a body built for sports. Given the chance, I would have chosen football over cheerleading. Unfortunately, from the moment I identified myself as a lover of men, I never imagined I had a choice.
To the newest generation of young men who play football: you have a choice. You can do better than your fathers and their fathers. As the world evolves, put your true and lasting stamp on sports history by being the first college football athletes to lighten up on your gay teammates. The power to change the sports world is in your hands right now.
Randy Boyd is the author of Walt Loves the Bearcat, the story of a lifelong romance between a college cheerleader and quarterback who becomes the first out superstar athlete. A Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Best Romance.