There is a danger in labeling. You can coffin corner yourself.
*Coffin corner: A football reference which refers to a punt that is kicked out of bounds near the end zone, effectively putting the opposing offense in a “coffin corner.”
You’re one dimensional with your back against the wall and the defense is on a jail break blitz. Instead of a touchdown drive, you’re just hoping you don’t give up any points and have to hand the ball back to the other team.
One of the battles I’ve never understood is when someone says, “I’m not a gay (insert noun), I am just a (noun) who happens to be gay.” What? Huh? I don’t get it.
That was until I laid claim to, “the first openly gay high school football coach.”
Let’s take a step back and tell the story pre (and shortly post) TED Talk…
I had been volunteering for TEDxUNR for several years and I was slated to be the master of ceremonies in 2016. Until I was approached with an idea – don’t announce the speakers, be a speaker.
The friend who came to me with this idea was none other than the master curator of TEDxUNR himself and, through an awkward and entertaining series of events, he knew I was a closeted gay coach.
At this time I was committed to staying in the closet. I just landed my dream job and I knew very little about the “out” world of football other than that things didn’t seem to go all to well for Michael Sam.
I honestly didn’t think it was possible for me. Maybe for someone else with more mental fortitude, but not me. Besides, what sort of TED Talk could I give? “Umm… Hello everyone. Name’s Shane. I coach ball. I’m gay. The end.”
So I started researching. I looked the internet up and down for anyone in my situation that might be able to help. I even contacted Michael Sam’s publicist (fat chance). I found nothing.
So, I went about telling my story. Drawing from only my experiences. It was an absolute blur with no benefit of hindsight.
I don’t regret it. In fact, looking back on it through the chaos I actually managed to craft the perfect narrative before it had actually played out in my own life.
But, it’s hard to describe the dystopia I was living leading up to this thing. I was very quietly out of the closet in the months leading up to the big day and I was struggling to keep it a secret for much longer.
It was a constant battle of truth and lies. Who am I?
So why the fear if I was going to do it anyway? The reason I agreed with myself to do the talk was that even if it all backfired and my coaching career fell apart (it nearly did) at least I would have had the power to tell my story in a thoughtful, educational forum that highlighted the importance of the issue.
My life would be forever viewed through the prism of before and after.
The stories came flooding in over the next six months.
- “Gay football coach gives emotional TED Talk”
- “Gay high school football coach comes out in TED Talk”
- “Tackling stigmas: high school coach knows the struggles of being gay”
- “Gay coach gives emotional speech”
- “Gay…….. Shit are we done yet?”
Okay that last one wasn’t actually an article, but you get my point. The Associated Press picked it up and it landed my beautiful mug on every newspaper from coast to coast.
So, that’s it right? I’m the gay coach.
Well however you see me, the gay coach or the coach who happens to be gay, it didn’t matter. It was about how I was seeing myself. I got lost in the noise of my own idea. Who was I really? The world seemed to know, but I definitely did not.
When you “come out” it is your time to really rediscover who you are. Maybe not even rediscover, more like discover for the first time. And I got lost in newspaper headlines telling me who I was.
I’m the gay coach.
No. “The Talk” and subsequent tornado of media is a part of who I am, but only a small part.
I am many things, but I am not a label.