“Icing the Kicker,” Chapter Four
I know exactly what I’m going to ask next — the first question they probably expected from me instead of the curve I threw them.
I like to keep people on their toes, though, keep ’em guessing.
That’s my motto. One of them, anyway.
But this isn’t a normal, everyday interview. And it certainly isn’t a game.
It’s a young man’s life.
“What made you take the leap from telling your teammates and coaches to coming out publicly?” I get right to the point. “Even your parents aren’t too keen on the idea — nor are they too thrilled about you consenting to do this interview with me — but only because they love you and are concerned for your well-being. I get that. Honest, I do. Plus, they know what you’re going through better than anyone else and only want to protect you because they do worry. So why bring public attention to yourself? And again, this isn’t a criticism in any way on my part, but a valid question many people most likely will ask you to get a better understanding of why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
Scott takes his time, considering my questions and weighing his answers before speaking with carefully chosen words.
Told ya he’s a smart one.
I’m a pretty good judge of character — OK, so there are a few glaring exceptions from my past, but I never claimed to be perfect — so I have a pretty good idea where he’s going with this. It’s just best for me to record it — figuratively speaking since I’m going old-school all the way by taking notes instead of spooking him with my ancient tape recorder — in his own words.
“Not everyone has the wonderful support system I’m fortunate to have, and because I’ve been given so much unconditional love from so many people, I feel like it’s my duty to sort of pay it forward to others who don’t, to others who feel alone or are all alone,” he says. “If I can help one person, save one person by going public with my story, then all of this is well worth it. I’m not doing this for selfish reasons, let me make that clear right now, but I know people are going to think what they want to think and there’s going to be no changing their minds no matter what I say or do. I’m OK with that. But I’m not OK with knowing that there are others out there like me who hide their true selves out of fear. It’s the worst feeling in the world.
“So I asked everyone I told if they would stand behind me — no, with me — if I were to go public so I could reach out to others who are going through the same struggles as me. Some of them — especially my moms — expressed the same concerns you brought up with your questions, but in the end, they told me they’d support me no matter what I decided to do. How can I turn my back on others when so many have reached out to me? It’s a no-brainer, and I’m willing to face whatever comes my way head-on with no regrets. I can do that because of the support I have from all the people who are willing to stand beside me.”
I worked that much out for myself coming into this interview, but it’s nice to hear him say it, nice to know he’s doing it to help others.
“I figured as much,” I reveal, focusing my attention on Coach Thomas now. “Coach, what was your initial reaction to Scott wanting to go public? What was the very first thought that popped into your mind?”
He claps Scott on the shoulder before getting up from his chair to prowl around his small, somewhat cluttered office.
“Honestly?” he starts out. “The first thing I thought about was how doing this story with you might affect his scholarship offers. I’m not talking about the ones he’s already been offered — he’s had a few from a handful of really outstanding smaller schools to play both sports on a full ride if he so wishes — but ones he could receive in the future from bigger universities that have shown an interest whose athletic programs might appeal more to him. But then I thought, ‘If those bigger universities suddenly back off, then he’s better off elsewhere because I know they’re not going to be supportive of him.’ So I look at it as their loss, not his.
“But that’s just hypothetical thinking on my part since nothing of the sort has happened. YET. I sure hope it doesn’t because I would like to think that colleges and universities pride themselves on being forward-thinking and welcoming to ALL, but I imagine there are some out there that are not from behind closed doors. It’s not like he’s the first gay person to play sports and excel at them. Not even close.
“It worked for Michael Sam at the University of Missouri — although his teammates knew several months before he went public about his sexual orientation — so why not Scott?”
Straightforward. I love it.
Unfortunately, Michael Sam’s NFL — National Football League for those of you who live under rocks or don’t (GASP!) watch the sport — career didn’t pan out the way he had envisioned. The defensive end — a unanimous first-team All-American in 2013, plus the Southeastern Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year alongside Alabama (Roll Tide!) linebacker C.J. Mosley and first-team all-SEC selection that same year — watched his professional career fizzle out before it ever had a chance to begin. He came out to his Mizzou teammates in 2013 and announced it to the rest of the world on Feb. 9, 2014. Some questioned the wisdom of his decision to do so before the NFL draft that took place three months later in May, but the St. Louis Rams scooped him up on the final day of the event with the 249th overall pick. A total of 256 players were drafted that year.
Sam — the first openly gay player to be drafted in the NFL — was cut by the Rams at the end of training camp after they chose to keep undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrooks because he proved to be a more versatile player on the defensive line. I’ll give the Rams the benefit of the doubt on that one since they did take a chance on Sam by drafting him in the first place, especially since he had a poor showing in the NFL Scouting Combine — a one-week showcase in which college football players are subjected to physical and mental tests under the watchful eyes of NFL coaches, general managers and scouts — also in February, the same month he came out publicly. I can understand them being leery of taking a chance on a player who doesn’t produce the way he’s expected to when it comes down to the time and money it might take for NFL organizations to develop him to ensure he’s a perfect fit for their respective teams.
He was added to the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad later in 2014, but was waived when they opted to go with linebacker Troy Davis instead. He then signed a two-year contract with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL — the Canadian Football League, which I make a point NOT to watch because, hey, it’ll never hold a candle to my precious NFL, in my not-so-humble snotty bitch opinion — the following year, but ultimately called it quits due to what he, himself deemed personal issues after playing in just one game. He later admitted that he never wanted to play in the CFL to begin with, and while I respect his honesty, he could have handled that whole situation a lot better by talking it over privately with the Alouettes’ organization first rather than yapping about it on live radio to sports talk show host and former longtime ESPN personality Dan Patrick (y’know — SportsCenter, en fuego, sarcasm). It’s akin to a slap in the face.
But then, I’m not Michael Sam — who also was the first openly gay player in the CFL — and I don’t know a damn thing about his personal life other than what has been reported, so I’m not going to sit in judgment of him after everything he has endured in public and in private. I can only imagine the monumental pressures he must have been under while being pulled in every which direction by people who I’m sure meant well, but ended up doing him more harm than good in the long run. That’s just a wild guess on my part, but I don’t think I’m too far off the mark. And no matter how you look at it, being the first to be up front about his sexuality takes the kind of mettle rarely achieved by ANY football player on ANY field ANYWHERE.
So, until you’ve walked a mile in HIS shoes, you have no idea what HIS life is like. And I’ll just leave it at that.
“With that said, I’m going to tell you what went through my mind the day he came out to the team,” Coach Smith informs me, once more jarring me out of my innermost personal observations.
Have at it, buddy.
“Coming out to his teammates took a great deal of courage. If it were me, I’m not so sure I could have done it, could have told my teammates like he did. Fear can be a very powerful thing — is a very powerful emotion — but Scott … Scott just put all of his cards on the table for his teammates to see, knowing that there was a strong possibility they’d turn their backs on him and tell him to get the, uh, blank out of their locker room. But they didn’t, which speaks highly of their character and, as I already told you a few minutes ago, their unconditional love for each other.
“Now, don’t you go rolling your eyes at me, Piccolo, but that right there is the biggest reward any coach or teacher can ever receive,” he says, calling me out before I can even begin to get in a good eye-roll. “Knowing your values, actions and teachings have made the kind of impression that shines through in their collective choice to embrace Scott for who he is on the playing field AND away from it makes me grateful to be in a profession where I can witness firsthand the good in people that comes from doing what I do. It’s why I chose to do what I do. That in itself is way more satisfying than any championship trophy, any teaching or coaching accolades and, yes, any paycheck — not that they’ll ever amount to much — I’ll ever receive.
“It’s not just a job to me; it’s a calling.”
I can’t describe it any other way.
The man certainly has the gift of gab.
And a knack for getting his point across in such a direct manner that causes people to stand up and take notice.
To pay attention.
Well played, Coach. Well played.