Chris Burns is not famous, nor is he looking to be famous — or first. He is an assistant coach of a Division 1 college basketball team in Smithfield, R.I., the Bryant University Bulldogs, a team where he was once a star player.
And now, like it or not, he is the first out coach of any men's or women’s D1 team in college basketball.
In it, Burns explained that even though sports always gave him confidence, hiding his sexuality growing up in rural New Hampshire was a scary proposition. He also revealed that his boyfriend back when he attended and played for Bryant was Anthony Nicodemo, who went on to be a high school basketball coach. Nicodemo is out, and Burns told Outsports his support is what got him through some difficult years.
"Slowly I became more comfortable with myself, and Anthony did as well. I felt both pressure and fear rise in me. All of those early years, just beginning to explore my sexuality, were filled with a bit of denial. As comfort rose, I realized someday I would have to embrace and accept that this is who I am, and that I will need to be honest with people about it."
Next month his team opens its season against the defending national champion, Duke University. But Burns told USA Today he faced an even tougher challenge, after first telling his head coach Tim O’Shea more than a year ago: he decided it was the time to stop being either a coach or a gay man. It was time to be both.
“There are parts of this business that lead me to believe what I’m about to tell you is not acceptable here,” the assistant coach told his players recently in the Bulldogs locker room.
“This is something I struggle with. It’s made me consider giving up coaching. It’s made me think I’m not supposed to be here.”
The players were wide-eyed, Burns said, and he took a deep breath. “I’m a gay man,” he said at last.
How did players react? Burns said they hugged him and told him they loved him.
“There was an initial shock factor,” senior forward Curtis Oakley told USA Today. “But everyone was, like, ‘Yo, Burns, we rockin’ with you.’ It was all love.”
Watch Chris Burns's coming-out interview with USA Today’s Scott Gleason, below.