Sasha, wearing her black Buffaloes sweatshirt, spoke first in our FCA group. “I’ve been thinking about Coach Barry a lot lately,” she said. Lisa and Kelly began nodding their heads, as if they had been waiting for Sasha to share this exact sentiment. The three of them lived in an off-campus apartment and prayed together every night before bed. “I just think it’s important we reach out to her, show her how much we love her,” Sasha continued. “Because everybody needs Jesus.” She stressed the word everybody.
My teammates seemed to understand what Sasha was saying. I did not. I knew that Coach Barry was a “good Catholic girl from Kentucky” (her words) because we had talked about our shared religion during the recruiting process. But unlike me, Coach actually attended church. The previous week, while we were all eating together in Dal Ward, I had overhead Sasha and Kelly asking Coach Barry about her beliefs, and Coach had told them, “Don’t worry about me. I know what I believe.” So what was this about?
“But Coach is Catholic,” I said to the group. “She already has her beliefs.” My friends gave me a pitying look, like they were about to break some really bad news. They leaned into the space bus, and Lisa whispered, “Coach Barry’s lifestyle is keeping her from truly knowing Jesus.”
I glanced at Dee. She was looking down at her hands. I thought I knew what Lisa meant by “lifestyle.” During my recruiting visit three years earlier, while most of the team was eating pizza at an Old Chicago, one of the older players had told us that Coach Barry was dating a woman, a professor on campus. The player lowered her voice and looked around the restaurant as she explained that Coach Barry kept her private life hush-hush, because that kind of information could hurt recruiting. “Of course, I probably shouldn’t tell you that,” she said with a laugh. “Maybe now you won’t want to come here.” I want to believe my reaction at the time was mild surprise—maybe something like, “Coach dates a woman?”—because I didn’t know any real, live lesbians back then. But it’s quite possible I might have said, “That is so gross!” The sad truth is that I occasionally uttered homophobic statements in an attempt to convince my audience, and especially myself, that I was heterosexual, despite a growing pile of emotional evidence to the contrary.
I leaned into our circle and whispered, “Wait, so we think Coach Barry is going to...”
I stopped short of saying “hell” because I didn’t like floating that idea out into the universe, in case the spiritual powers that be should somehow misinterpret my words and mistakenly seal her fate. “I mean, we don’t think she’ll be saved?”
Lisa slowly, solemnly shook her head, never breaking eye contact with me. “It’s not our job as Christians to judge, so we have to keep that in mind,” she said. “But the life she has chosen is ungodly.”
“We can never know someone else’s relationship with Christ,” Sasha said, picking up the thread from Lisa. “But we do know that certain sins create a gulf between people and God. And this is one of those sins.”
My teammates continued to explain their concerns, which they said came from a place of love and acceptance, because Coach Barry was an important person in their lives and they wanted her to walk a “healthier” path. I listened as each of them took turns speaking, occasionally interrupting one another with reminders that none of this was about passing judgment, which prompted another round of head nodding.
“Absolutely—of course not,” someone would say. “That’s not what this is about.”
Dee didn’t speak, but she nodded at the right times. I stuffed my hands in the pouch of my hooded sweatshirt and didn’t contradict a word that was said.
“Let’s pray,” Sasha said finally, bowing her head and reaching for the hands on either side of her. We all linked palms and dropped our eyes. I stared at the tops of my sneakers, wanting to process all of this information with my thoughts grounded in reality, rather than closing my eyes and letting my mind float to some ethereal place, where only the earnest words of my zealous teammates would fill the space.
Sasha inhaled deeply before speaking. “Heavenly Father, we love you so much,” she said, the words like a passionate exhale. “We’re just so thankful for nights like tonight, when we can open up our hearts and minds to you, Lord. We know that you made us in your likeness, just as you made Jesus, and we want to loyally serve you, God, which is why we come to you tonight with heavy hearts.”
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Excerpted with permission from The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team led by Born-Again Christians by Kate Fagan. Copyright 2014, Skyhorse Publishing.