COLUMBIA, Mo. - Frustrated Coach had nowhere else to turn.
Alone with his secret, the college lacrosse coach sat down at his computer seeking others like himself: gay men who played and coached competitive, high-level sports but remained trapped in the closet.
“I am totally closeted, not married, totally gay and no one would guess,” he wrote in an online chat room for gay athletes, coaches and fans. “My family, my team, my university and my career are not even remotely gay-friendly.”
Over the next two years, Frustrated Coach revealed his hopes, fears and secrets with his trusted, but similarly anonymous peers on Outsports.com.
The 33-year-old coach shared his regrets about pursuing “serial one-night stands” with strangers as he grappled with his identity.
He disclosed a recent bout with colon cancer. His upbringing in a fundamentalist Baptist church that scorned homosexuality. The emotional void he felt in hiding. How a psychologist urged him to date women to make sure he was truly gay. Alcohol binges he sought to dull the pain. The 24-hour involuntary commitment on suicide watch in a psychiatric hospital.
Gradually, the coach grew more comfortable in his own skin. On Halloween 2004, he told his parents, both devout Baptists and the children of missionaries.
The coach’s parents were devastated. So were his older brother and sister. The family’s youngest child was a sinner, an abomination in the eyes of God. Communication stopped.
Frustrated Coach returned to his computer, gaining more confidence even as his family shunned him. Over the ensuing 18 months, he began to confide his secret to a select group of friends — but no one connected to lacrosse.
On June 10, 2006, Frustrated Coach again logged on to www.outsports.com. This time, he signed his online post using his real name:
Kyle Hawkins. Head coach, University of Missouri men’s lacrosse.
The two-ton elephant in the room
The practice fields at the Mizzou lacrosse summer camp were a stew of sweat, testosterone, juvenile humor and adolescent chest-thumping.
“What are you, some kind of fag?” one camper said to another who messed up a drill.
“Get off me, you have AIDS!” another shouted to a chorus of teenage laughter.
Hawkins remained silent. He knew that these were high school students, with all the immaturity that entails. He also knew the locker room’s unforgiving culture, and that anti-gay insults are common in team sports, from junior high hallways to NFL stadiums.
At the camp, Hawkins revealed his secret to some ex-players working as assistants, and a few returning players, team leaders with compassion and sensitivity.
Still, when the entire team returned to school in September, he kept quiet.
“If you’re treating it as special, you’re still not treating it as equal,” Hawkins said. “If I sit my kids down and say, ‘Let’s talk about my sexuality’ ... What straight coach does that?”
The players knew anyway. There were whispers he’d been seen at one of the few gay bars in the town. Then some reporters trolling the Web saw his Outsports posts and sought out Hawkins when Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen called a reporter “a fag.”
The online lacrosse community began its own debate. Among the questions: Should a gay coach be allowed in the same locker room as his straight players?
For the team, Hawkins’ status as the only openly gay men’s coach of a major college sport became the two-ton elephant in the room.
Everyone knew, but no one was talking.
“It’s awkward,” said Blaine Skrainka, a junior attackman and the team’s vice president.
The Tigers’ lacrosse program is a club sport; players buy their own equipment and uniforms and pay annual dues of nearly $2,000. But while the team lacks varsity status, the players are just as committed. They practice five days a week and must abide by NCAA rules, from grade requirements to mandatory study halls on road trips.
“Everybody who plays on our team loves lacrosse,” said sophomore attackman Charles Nagel. “They love the sport enough where they’re not going to quit just because the coach is gay.”
Still, a dozen key players, including the team’s star goalie and co-captain, didn’t return to the team this season.
None cited Hawkins’ sexuality as the reason they left. They said they wanted to devote more time to school or internships, or they complained of the financial burden or a lack of playing time or personality conflicts with Hawkins.
One former player wrote derogatory comments about Hawkins on Facebook, the social networking Web site. The coach attributed the outburst to immaturity and alcohol, not hatred.
He acknowledged, though, that the number of players who left is higher this year.
“They’re young people and they have an issue with me,” he said — whether the issue is his sexual orientation or something else.
Sophomore Sam Fosdick said he quit the team after chafing under Hawkins’ leadership. “I left because of a disagreement with the coach,” he said. “His being gay had nothing to do with it.”
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