Op-ed: Dear Anonymous Closeted Coaches

An openly gay track coach responds to others grappling with their sexual orientation.

BY Micah Porter

November 04 2013 3:00 AM ET

Earlier this year, Colorado high school track coach Micah Porter came out as gay in a profile for Outsports. Since then, he's received letters -- many of them anonymously -- about his story, from other high school and college coaches across the country. Here, he responds:

 

A Dear Anonymous Coach,

I first would like extend my sincere thanks to you for the very passionate letter you sent me. It was clear that you were seeking an outlet to share your fears and trepidations with, and I am honored that you chose to reach out to me.  

Let’s first start with you knowing that I completely understand your concerns about coming out as a gay coach. As you admitted, “I am sorry I have to do this anonymously but I could never risk my name getting out there being a gay coach.  I do not believe my community would accept it.” For me, coaching and teaching at an extremely conservative school, with a population of wealthy, upper-class, and religious families, helped to keep me in the closet for nearly two decades. Trust me, I get it.  No one knows better than you the culture of your community, whether or not your team will be accepting, and what your support system might be.

But ask yourself, “Am I allowing others to determine my own happiness?” Let’s address the answer to that question a bit later.

As you well know, we coaches try to inculcate many values on our athletes. We are constantly giving them advice as how to not only become better players, runners or swimmers, but to become better people. We all want our athletes to become good people, even great people. This special athlete-coach relationship exists because they know you wanted them, and still want them, to become a good person. You have taught them the value of hard work, dedication, selflessness, teamwork, trust, and honesty. Yes, honesty. Throughout your career as a coach, you worked to instill in your athletes the importance of being open and honest.  I can’t speak for you, but I came to a point where I could no longer live fraudulently. I had to tackle the issue of my sexuality and begin to live honestly and openly. I couldn’t think of a better lesson to teach my athletes than living true to myself.

Think for a moment about the athletes that come back to visit. They may come for an event at your school or to see old friends. But in reality, they come to see you.  They don’t come to see you because they have a fond memory of a play you called, or a special workout you created. They come because you forged a relationship with them that was significant. They come to see you as a person, a special person, one that they just so happen to call “coach.” Do you really think they would “run you out of town,” as you wrote?

I will not deceive you by suggesting that the transition to being an openly gay coach has been easy. I have lost some friends. I have also gained many more, and this has helped me distill who I am fortunate to spend my time with. The number of strangers who have reached out to me to lend their support has been overwhelming. Coaches, athletic directors, former athletes, professional athletes, former teammates, former coaches have all reached out. It has reenergized my faith in people and humanity’s ability to be truly loving and tolerant. I have reconnected with more former athletes than I ever thought possible. Not because they now know I am gay, but rather, because they simply wanted to let me know they care about me … as their coach.

Even so, it has been tough. Just as an athlete puts in grueling hours to achieve something worthwhile, so was my journey. There were sacrifices, but the struggle has produced a feeling of pride and happiness that I never knew was possible.  Similar to the way an athlete feels after putting in endless hours of preparation, I can undoubtedly say, it has been worth it. The other side has been filled with joy, goodness, peace, and ultimately, love. The loving relationship I am now in is proof that the darkest journeys are often the most rewarding.

“I have thought for years about what would happen if I came out.  I have decided to remain unhappy to maintain the life I have created. Every day I wonder if it is the right decision.” These words could have been written by me, just months ago.  But these were your words. So, to the earlier question, “Am I allowing others to determine my own happiness?” Your answer is clearly “Yes.” Why are you settling for this? As a coach, do you always settle for anything other than the best?

As a coach, you have dedicated yourself to helping and guiding others. In the meantime, you have failed to focus on your own well-being and this has led to a deep level of sadness in who you are as a person. How can you truly lead others if you can’t lead yourself? Stop being a martyr. Start being a genuine coach. Start being you.

— Micah Porter

Twitter:  @micahporter
Email:  [email protected]

D'Evelyn High School
10359 W. Nassau Ave.
Denver, CO 80235
(303) 982-2632

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