This is something I originally was going to use for my Introduction To Debate class, but I think it'll be more suitable here.
I've been playing sports for my entire life, really for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest baby pictures have footballs and baseballs as props, and I think being an athlete is in my blood. I've played on competitive teams since I was five, and being taller than the other boys has always been an advantage to me as is being a naturally fast runner.
While playing sports is tough enough, for the gay athlete there's additional pressures to deal with that your straight teammates will never know. An unfair advantage they have over you.
Gay guys are considered weak, soft, and effeminate by most people, a stereotype that is constantly reinforced in popular media. As a gay athlete this is the biggest hurdle to overcome, but really it's a never ending mountain that you have to continually keep climbing. You have to push yourself harder, train longer, and play harder than everyone else just to prove you're not INFERIOR. It gives you a drive that few will really understand, but it's always there, like your shadow.
Sometimes it eats you alive.
I've known I was gay since I was seven and stared competitive swimming, not for the intensity of it, but for the opportunity to see other boys naked in the locker room. This is the first time I've ever told anyone that, and it makes me feel DIRTY. This brings me to the another challenge gay athletes face, the fear, and the paranoia that comes with it.
I know there's lots of closeted gays who's biggest fear is being caught, and I understand that. Now imagine how a gay athlete feels when that fear is compounded tenfold? It's an even bigger fear than that of being inferior, because if you're caught you LOSE IT ALL. No coach will want you, your teammates won't want you playing with them, much less anywhere near them in the shower. If they actually let you play, everything you do is put under a microscope and analyzed for any traces of that dreaded INFERIORITY.
As a gay athlete you're also smart, and you have to be to keep running away from yourself. You date a girl you have no interest in, and even do things with you that gross you out, all to maintain your COVER. You monitor everything you do and eradicate any hints of being gay that might cast even the smallest shadow of a doubt on you. You may even bully other gays just to show them your better, even though you know damn well you're just like them.
From outward appearances you are a role model. A hero. The one others look up to and strive to be even a little bit like, but how many people do you think would want to be anything like you if they knew the TRUTH?
For some gay athletes this burden ends when they graduate from high school and their playing days are over, but for others it carries on through college, and for a select few, into professional sports.
There's been criticism of gay professional athletes for not coming out, but why should they? Who in their right mind would come out knowing that their career could end, along with the potential loss of millions of dollars, for being gay? Does anyone think they want to deal with the scrutiny that gay men face? Having anything you do critiqued for signs of WEAKNESS or INFERIORITY?
We love to champion those who come out as heroes, but to me the real heroes are those hiding in plain sight, who go on being the best they can be on the playing field and in life in spite of the shadow that never stops chasing them. I know they exist, and I pray for them.
Because I understand.
By writing this, I hope others will too.