Lions for Lambs

Certainly the truth about what actually happened this last year would completely discredit me, right? 

Anyone who has ever tried to walk the road of recovery knows the immense pressure that comes along with it. It is the stuff that legends are made of.

It is a mystical, super human and soul tearing experience that stretches you to the very brink of sanity. For the practical person, it leaves us wondering – how? How did this all happen? How could a life so filled with joy and excitement turn so sharply to absolute chaos?

For all of us at some point the truth became too much. Maybe it wasn’t too much for us, but it was too much for others. So, in an effort to protect ourselves, our family or friends or whomever, we started hiding it.

It’s a simple, self preserving and seemingly harmless act on the surface, but it comes at an incredible cost.

I am a very spiritual person, not necessarily in the traditional religious sense, but on an individual level. I think it manifests in my life with my ability to connect to other people. Not bragging, but if you know me personally you know this is a talent of mine. Rather it is with you, your spouse, your son or daughter, we have a deep connection. It’s strange and hard to describe or quantify, but it is there. And it is something I cherish. lion-wide

This being said, I am acutely aware of the science behind the soul and the damage you do

to yourself in trying to change your truth.

Unfortunately sometimes it takes extreme trial and error for us to figure out the only way to set things right it to tell the truth. Don’t sugar coat it. Tell it how it is –

The truth is like a lion, set it free. It will defend itself.

So would the truth discredit me?

It was a question that followed me around the last 365 days like a hawk. It tormented me and drove me into further isolation.

I was terrified that if word got out that I was still struggling with sobriety that everything I stood for and asked of this world would be destroyed. I convinced myself that this was the truth. Instead of letting the lions out of the cage, I turned myself into a lamb. Only projecting the quiet, fluffy and fraudulent information that wouldn’t rock the boat.

Which is completely ridiculous and the only discrediting to my idea that I was doing was lying about what was really going on.

I never claimed to have any grasp  on sobriety or spiritual perfection. The only thing that I did claim was that the truth – the loud, roaring, teeth-gnashing lion of a truth – will bring a positive change to the world. It did then and it still does now.

I’m saying goodbye to this blog and to this story. I’m stepping out of the spotlight so that I can go find myself. A coming-of-age journey of sorts.

Just remember – trade lions for lambs.

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All that shimmers isn’t gold – guest post by Kenny Desoto

Every morning Shane Wickes buys a venti coffee with a splash of cream and makes it back home just in time for the Today Show. In 2016, Wickes was one of the speakers at TEDx hosted by the University of Nevada, Reno.

“I was actually supposed to be a master of ceremony last year when I gave a speech.”

Shane Wickes is a Reno native and the talk he gave was about being a gay football coach and his struggle with addiction and depression.

Shane committed countless hours into the TEDx event where he started out as a parking volunteer in 2014. In preparation of the event, the speakers practice their speeches in front of volunteers to receive feedback. Shane attended so many practices in 2015 that event organizer and mentor Dr. Bret Simmons invited him to attend the speaker dinner.

“At this point in time, I was not ‘out of the closet completely’ and I was debating whether or not if I should bring a date,” Shane said reflecting on the night.

Shane was sitting right across the table from Jennifer Knapp, a Christian song artist who spoke at the 2015 event. Knapp’s talk was about her being a lesbian and Christian. Jennifer and Shane hit it off that night and after meeting Knapp’s partner, Shane had to go pick up his date before the after party.shanewickes_j460_001

“Jennifer said, ‘I have to meet this girl.’ I smiled and laughed. Little did she know.”

After surprising Jennifer and her partner, Dr. Simmons’ approached. Shane paused; he was about to come out to someone that has known him since he was in high school.

“It’s funny because I dated his daughter in high school” Shane stated.

Dr. Simmons’ was ecstatic to meet Shane’s date and the rest of the evening was a night to remember for Wickes. After feeling so inspired by Jennifer’s story and newfound support from Dr. Simmons, Shane decided to apply for the 2016 event and the rest was history.

“I’ll never forget, I was sharing my story and my idea with Jennifer and she said, ‘What are you waiting for?’”

It was a tricky road to walk for Shane in the months leading up to his talk. He was about to give a grandiose coming out speech to the world, but he was still fighting to stay in the closet.

“I made the decision to stay closeted for that football season, but the circle of people who knew was getting bigger and bigger and the stress was unbelievable.”

It has been just over a year since Shane’s talk and his schedule has picked up ten folds since the world had access to his talk. He has given talks in places at many different high schools and joined a Facebook group called the Equality Coaches Alliance – a private group where LGTBQ coaches all over the country can collaborate on ideas and hand each other support.

As momentum gained with his story with publications like the Reno-Gazette Journal and USA Today, Shane felt as if this new light has caused a lot more problems rather than a new extravagant lifestyle.

“It’s different when you give a talk largely centered around addiction when you are sober, but it is completely different when you are giving the talk and you’re still struggling with your disease.”shanewickes_j460_002

When Shane shared his story in 2016, he was still not completely sober. As time went on after his talk, he coped with stress with even more alcohol although there was no more pressure on hiding his sexuality; he was struggling with how to handle the attention. His drinking habits became so bad, that he developed delirium tremens (also known as DTS) which is the body going through an alcohol withdrawal. He developed a true dependency to alcohol.

“I got a feeling that the world knew more about me than I knew myself,” Shane explained to me as he holds a cup of coffee to his lips. “I was overwhelmed and everything was happening so fast that I didn’t realize what I was doing to myself to cope with all of it.”

Shane realized that he needed to really get himself back on track of things. After making a big coaching change, he needed to grab ahold of things again. He decided to admit himself to West Hills Hospital, which is a mental health and substance abuse treatment center.

Shane’s time didn’t last longer than just a few days, but the people he met and the experience itself taught him how much his life means to him.

Shane would not share his exact sobriety date with me saying, “I don’t share this because I feel as if my life has just been so much in the spotlight the past year, I find keeping some things just to myself is healthy for me.”

Now that he has been sober for a few months now and finally reflecting back on his journey since TEDx, Shane has been able to really focus on what he really wants to do in life once he graduates from the University of Nevada this May.

“I’ve really enjoyed writing and speaking. I’m working some new, more creative avenues of writing that help me express my thoughts.”

He is gearing up for another football season, this time for Bishop Manogue via the big news hire of Head Coach Ernie Howren.

“At this point, it is important for me to get back to just coaching football. This last year was insane. Many good things came from it. I am glad I was able to touch a few people’s lives, but I am ready to focus on just coaching for awhile.”

Shane emphasized he is not bowing out of the LGBT sports conversation altogether, but he is taking a much needed break.

Coffin Corner

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.  screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-11-10-15-pm

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.

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-11-07-36-pmThe 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. screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-11-16-39-pm

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.

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-11-20-16-pmIt 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. Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 1.17.50 AM.png

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.

The beginning of the end

After almost two years of dodging in and out of this blog, I have decided to retire it.

But, before I do I have made a promise to myself to finish up the 10 some odd blogs that are sitting in the drafts section and to finally write a few of the ones I never got around to.

So it’s time to strip the lipstick off this pig.

aaeaaqaaaaaaaaleaaaajgu0otewnju3ltezzjqtndbmoc1iowe0ltnin2e1mmm3ngeyngI have done a very good job of beautifying this blog. Nearly every blog I have written has omitted many truths. Some for the protection of others and some for what I thought was my own protection.

Calm down – this is not an all out assault on dirty laundry. This is me writing the things I never felt like I had the courage to write before.

Me shying away from writing something? I know it sounds strange, but to my small corner of the internet, this is the beginning of the end.

Never when I started this, for a social media branding class of all things, did I think that it would morph into the greatest adventure of my life. I’ve always tried to connect with you all in the most authentic way possible.

So, if you’re still tagging along, get ready because they’re coming fast and furious.

Thank you to all of you who follow, comment and write me. It has been encouraging and empowering. While I could probably write forever, this chapter of my life has come to its close.

Before I go I will leave you with my final thoughts on Faith, Family, and of course, Football.

 

Shane

 

 

Love Trumps Hate, but that’s not what we’re doing.

Hate does not compel, it consumes.

I feel it every time I pass a ‘Trump’ bumper sticker on a car or one of those red hats walk by. It’s actually physical. I feel my stomach knot up. My fists clench. My face flush red with blood.

How can I possibly find common ground with these people?

Every ten minutes it seems that my phone buzzes with a new headline from our President. Every time I jump on Facebook my feed is brimming with stories. The infamous “wall”, EPA, Climate Change (or the lack thereof), gag orders, trade crisis, lack of jobs, religious rights (or their over extension), women’s and LGBT rights (also, or the lack thereof)… We have officially arrived in information, over saturation hell.

Or, maybe it’s just hell.

I am beside myself. I am distressed and I find myself asking the real and honest question that many of us minority, human rights, global thinkers do… What the fuck do I do?

The hope and change that the last 8 years have brought seem to be falling away in a matter of days. Some things are true, some are rumors and all of them could occupy ones entire day by fact checking which is which. But, it seems even the true, not sensationalized news is not good news.

If you Google just how bad it is, I beg you – sit down with a bottle of wine first. (The news is for you, the wine is for me in spirit #sober).

It is so tempting to get behind my keyboard and start lashing out at anyone who voted for President Trump… But, that’s not going to help. My next inclination is to hide. But, that’s really not going to help as the world will keep spinning, news stories keep churning and assault on things I value will continue regardless of if I close my eyes or not.

So I cannot stomach Trumpism (Trump and his ideals #buzzword2017), but I cannot sit by and do nothing. I must do something…

Early on I latched onto the “Love Trumps Hate” mantra. How poetic and true! But, in the recent days I have not seen it. Anywhere. Sure, we show love for our side of the argument. For our clique. But, when it comes to dealing with the other side, we’re skipping taking the gloves off and going right to nuclear warfare.

 

I have done it myself.

So how, when I’m seeing the bumper stickers, the hats, my phone won’t stop buzzing and it seems like everything we care about is going up in flames, am I supposed to find the sense of calm to constructively participate?

Well, I don’t know yet. So I am imposing the oldest and noblest of traditions on myself – if you don’t have something [constructive] to say, don’t say it all.

If you’re going to coin the phrase”Love Trumps Hate”, you’d better be the embodiment of love. Otherwise we will continue to push each other further to one side or another.

I love passion. But don’t let it get the best of you.

Is football pro LGBT?

Football is not pro LGBT. They’re not anti-LGBT either. So where does that put the sport? Firmly on the fence.

Just google “gay football” and see what you get. A plethora of articles that aren’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the LGBT community.

Our sport is at an interesting crossroads. We’re slowly bleeding to death. More and more youth athletes are opting to play other sports.

Concussions, broken bones, torn ligaments, long term health side effects… There are lots of reasons why football is a bad idea. So why play it? Because we love it.

Amidst the talk of the lowest television ratings from the NFL in recent memory, I find myself wondering what the future holds for our sport. The NFL is spending lots of money on trying to make the sport safer and more attractive to a newly informed and largely anti-football public.  Parents don’t want their kids playing such a dangerous game.

Football used to sell itself. Now, we’re having to sell it. On top of all of the other considerations, being gay certainly gives one even more pause to participate. So can football continue to sit on the fence in the LGBT movement? I don’t think so.

But, there are people like Dr. Michael Brown, who think that the NFL has gone too far and call for players to stand up to the league:

“Don’t let yourselves be used as pawns for gay bullies and their allies. Send a message to the league with respect and honor, making it clear that the NFL has crossed the line one too many times and that you, as a person of faith and morality, will not be a part of it.”

In reading his article I struggle to find the evidence that the NFL is promoting anything LGBT. If anything, the run-ins that the NFL has had with LGBT issues has shown how undecided they are.

 

It’s time to get decided. The LGBT community is big and only getting bigger. For all the issues that football has right now we cannot afford to ostracize the gay community.

Get off the fence. Go gay.

The first law of Thermodynamics

I was having an out of body moment on that stage last January. Months and months of practice and more practice and I was finally standing on that stage sharing my big idea to a massive crowd.

To say I was nervous was an understatement. But I caught myself in the midst of my speech thinking, “Holy shit, you’re actually going to get through this.” The words were unconsciously flowing out of my mouth. My mind was wondering around the theatre (and frankly the universe) wondering how this all came together.

No sooner did I have that thought when I froze… I forgot where I was.

If you were not in the Pioneer Center when I spoke you would not have seen this of course because it was edited out. But, it happened.
fullsizeoutput_189fI am not sure exactly how long I stood there, but it felt like a lifetime. You are allowed to leave the stage and gather yourself, but I made a promise that to myself that I wasn’t doing that.

Eventually, I had to break the silence so I told the audience exactly what was on my mind. “Sorry” I said, “I told myself I wasn’t going to leave the stage. I know you’re all really hungry… and if you’re anything like me you could probably use a beer right now.”

To my relief the audience burst out in laughter. But, I still couldn’t pick it up. There was one line I knew I was forgetting. After another lengthy pause I finished out my speech. That one line never made it.

It was a central theme to my talk… So what was it?

“We all have dreams, but do not sacrifice who you are and what you believe in to get them.”

It was a thought that transcended just being gay.

Morgana Bailey gave a great TED Talk titled, “The danger of hiding who you are” at TED at State Street London in 2014. She talks about the scientifically proven health problems associated with suppressing aspects of your personality.

We know very little about mental health, but we do know a lot about energy. And it makes a lot of sense in that regard. That when an energy so powerful and great as being gay is turned inward, its powers of destruction are equally as incredible.

The first law of Thermodynamics: Energy is neither created nor destroyed, it simply changes form.

 

In a word – unremarkable.

I know I haven’t written in a long time. Getting back behind the keyboard feels a bit strange and oddly venerable.

The season didn’t exactly finish as planned, but behind the pain of a heartbreaking loss there is a much larger story. The fact of the matter is no matter how many games we won or lost, this season was a lot bigger than me.

 

So how was it, the first season of being an openly gay coach? Doing it on a public level?

Well, in a word – unremarkable. 

Fascinating isn’t it? In all honesty I approached this season with the impression that somewhere at some point something bad would happen. Maybe it would be an angry fan or player or parent who would rattle off some homophobic slur. I prepped myself and it was all for not.

Every once and awhile a parent would wonder, “which one is the gay coach?” Almost like they were in the presence of some rare, exotic bird that they hadn’t ever seen before. They’d stare at me with some sense of wonder or puzzlement. It never bothered me.

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Photo Credit: Chef Films

Maybe it wasn’t wonder or puzzlement. I could be completely wrong in my assessment of their curiosity, but it never felt that way.

The first time Coach Howren introduced me and the kids and I talked I said, “Hi. I’m Coach Wickes. Thought you guys should know something – I’m gay. It’s important for you to know that. I advocate for respect and tolerance in the locker room, but this is really the only time you’ll hear me talk about it.” And it was.

I’ll never forget after I said I was gay one of our star guys said, “It’s cool.”

We’d joke from time to time as the season went on about how fashionable I was or that we could “win with the gays.” (That ones my favorite). All very normal, harmless and even humanizing interactions.

Another great season for the Raiders and a little more quietly a brilliant success for gay coaches and players everywhere. Truly a credit to Coach Howren and the other coaches on staff who, I think if you’d ask them, would tell you the same –

How was having a gay coach on staff?

Unremarkable.

Blow Me a Kiss

I’ve been largely silent after the Orlando shooting. I really haven’t known what to say. I didn’t think I could add anything new to the conversation. But, as of last night I think I can.

Josue and I attended the Billy Currington concert in Reno, NV. last night as part of the Reno Rodeo Kickoff. We’re both country boys at heart and Josue is about as country as they come.

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Any time he and I (and many other LGBT people) go out into public we know there is a calculated risk. Anything as simple as holding hands could have a harmful outcome. We live in Reno, Nevada. Nevada is a pretty conservative place. Reno isn’t an exception. We know where we live.

There is one gay bar in Reno. One. If you’re not gay you can’t really understand the significance of gay bars. But, to help you understand I’ll put it this way. Gay bars are the only place outside of your home that you can go and feel safe and comfortable just being a couple. You can hold hands, dance, hug, maybe even kiss, without the potential threat of violence against you.

That’s what shook me and the LGBT community so hard. Orlando was an attack on a sanctuary for us.

Now you can sit here with me and debate the perversion of a gay bar being a sanctuary – to which I will not entertain a response – but that’s what it was.

The beauty of a gay bar is that you don’t have to calculate your risks. You’re free to love who you love and dance the night away without worrying about if you’re going to get mocked, beat up or killed.

That was until Sunday morning. orlandogaypride-500x350

Josue and I were both really excited for this concert. Billy Currington. He’s awesome. But, after Sunday we both had this new and heightened sense of fear. Neither of us talked about it. But, I felt it and so did he. The calculated risk just had a new variable. If a gay bar was no longer safe, the other places just became that much more unsafe.

Certainly a country concert with the good ‘ole boys from Reno isn’t something you’d imagine as a safe space.

We do this thing when we’re in public and don’t feel safe to be affectionate – we blow each other kisses. It’s our way of saying I love you and having that moment alone. There were lots of imaginary kisses last night.

Nearing the end of the concert there were so many people packed in tight to the stage. Josue was standing in front of me and I finally felt like there were enough people around us that we could go unnoticed. I put my arms around him.

We did not go unnoticed.

Some girls behind us noticed. One of the girls came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. She said, “do you own a husky?” To which I replied “yes.” She said, “I saw you the other day (at Josue and I’s favorite breakfast spot) and at the dog park and now you’re here!” She continued, “I don’t believe in coincidences. I just want to hug you guys.”

And she did. Right there in the middle of the concert she gave Josue and I a group hug. And suddenly, the calculated risk of going to a country concert and being with each other, but not really being with each other melted away.

We were just there. Like everyone else.

Many people have reacted to what happened in Orlando. Some good, some bad and some for political gain. Many have rejected sympathy. I am not sure what the right answer is. I am insulted by those who all of the sudden are on the gay band wagon, but I don’t think that everyone who’s shown recent support is doing it for the wrong reasons.

Some people are like Stacy. Now, I don’t know Stacy. Maybe she was an LGBT supporter before Orlando, but regardless she had the courage to comfort and acknowledge us in an unsafe space.

No more blowing kisses.

 

Shane

Photo Credit 

 

Run, Fight or Hide

People have been asking me what inspired me to give a TEDx Talk… Maybe this story will help answer that question.

Coming out is about the hardest thing you can do. In my case it was amplified by the fact that I had to do it hundreds of times, all while hoping that it wouldn’t become public knowledge.

There was a constant struggle between who I actually was and who the rest of the world thought I was. My life has revolved around football. It taught me so much about myself. It gave me purpose, joy and some of the most meaningful relationships I’ve ever known. And I felt like I had to chose between my life and my love of football…

I often heard, “Just do it. If people turn their backs on you – that’s their problem.” Really nice in thought, but imagine potentially giving up everything. Seem easy anymore?

On Saturday, fellow speaker Steven Hayes gave a fascinating talk on how we often make the mistakes of using external problem solving solutions to solving internal problems. External problem solving options are: run, fight or hide. It’s a default mechanism. We are taught our entire lives on how to solve external problems. To solve external problems; get away from them, fight against them or hide from them.

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 9.31.33 PM

Talia Ybarra Photography

I hid. And this was the result –

I hid in the bottom of every bottle I could get my hands on. Alcohol was my escape. I couldn’t change my location (run). I needed to finish my degree and I love where I coach. I couldn’t bring myself to depart with either of those. I couldn’t fight, because fighting meant owning up to who I was and I couldn’t do that…

So I hid. Every night when I came home the burden that I was carrying through the day was amplified. I was alone and the exhaustive schedule that I had created to distract myself during the day was no longer keeping me company. But, when I drank, I could forget all of that pressure. I could imagine myself living the life I truly wanted to live. Free from the oppression and depression. I could do whatever I wanted to do and be whoever I wanted to be. It was a feeling that I could not naturally replicate at the time.

Unfortunately, alcohol has side effects.

The more you drink, the more it takes you to get that feeling. And when you drink as much as I was drinking… Yikes. For someone who suffers from depression alcohol is the last thing you need. But, it calmed my anxiety and it was the easiest answer to what, at the time, seemed like an impossible problem to solve.

So why did I decide to give a TEDx Talk?

While I’m not the brilliant Steven Hayes, subconsciously I knew that the only shot I had at not drinking myself to death was to face it. I couldn’t hide any longer.

The stats on substance abuse surrounding gay teens, young adults and even adults is rough – to put it lightly. It’s a tough road to walk, but even harder if you do it the way I did.

I gave that talk so that hopefully even just one kid won’t end up like this…

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Talia Ybarra Photography

You can’t hide at the bottom of a bottle.

 

Shane

Talia Ybarra Photography