By Michael Brosseau
I get incredibly hot with anger just thinking about it. I feel my heartbeat picking up pace and my skin turning hot. I start thinking about how I could have done more, but also, how I did a lot with what I had. I fought hard, but eventually, I lost. As a former athlete, you would think that losing would be something I learned how to process from the day I began playing sports. It isn’t.
I am a former athlete who never played a single second of a varsity sport, and never had the opportunity to make a dream of playing sports at the college level a reality. My biggest connection to sports is having interned for two years with Marist College Athletics as a Sports Marketing/Promotions intern. In addition, I was an intern for the Marist College Center for Sports Communication, while majoring in Sports Communication. These experiences not only taught me a lot about myself professionally, but personally as well.
You see, my story begins much like many others. At a certain age, I began to realize something about me was different. It was not that I was nice, smart, or funny compared to others. I felt like something was wrong with me, because that’s the type of environment I spent my childhood believing I lived in. In school, I remember being a subject of relentless taunting, teasing, and bullying. You may ask what the difference of those three is, and to me, I do not use them for definition. Rather, for others to picture what I felt like when I was constantly made fun of. I was degraded for being myself, without even knowing that was who I was being.
I refuse to use the word victim, because I have done far too much in my life to think of myself as a victim. I am someone who exceeded expectations for himself, those expectations ultimately set by others before being set by myself within my new reality.
My first ‘boyfriend’, dumped me in the parking lot of a D’Angelo’s. My only ‘best friend’ in high school made me feel like her property, eventually stereotyping me as a specific type of gay, and outing me to her own mother. I have had people ridicule me for my weight, my voice, even my hearing impairment. But most of all, prior to going to college, I felt like I had an entire community of people against me for something that I didn’t understand myself. The isolation is more weight than any living soul should have to bear.
I remember being young (middle school aged) and being made fun of for being terrified to play shirts and skins when it came to basketball tryouts. I felt uneasy around the other boys with their shirts off and without my own. I noticed the differences in their body compared to mine, a shadowing of the constant body image comparisons that come with being an openly gay male.
I did not want my being gay to define who I was as an athlete, but it did. I had no role models when I was a kid, no one like Jason Collins, or Robbie Rogers, or Michael Sam (I am aware there were openly gay female athletes. However, I am a gay male. Therefore, those are my examples). Each of these athletes are different snapshots of the struggle I felt myself going through.
Worthless. Invalid. Talentless. Outcast. Faggot.
I was constantly comparing myself, struggling to keep my head above the water as an athlete in the closet. I heard the common gay slurs from opponents, teammates, and coaches across the board. I can’t recall ever feeling completely comfortable among my peers. It ultimately did not matter back then.
Being so deep within the closet, lacking the commitment and focus to get better, I eventually either got cut from sports teams, or decided to stop playing because it was just too much for me. I felt like I had reached my breaking point, but breaking was not an option for me. I do not like to compare mental burdens, but I had reached my capacity. I did not want to play sports more than I did not want to be gay.
By the time I was 19, attending college in New York, thinks began to change. Ultimately at Marist, I found myself unable to stay away from sports. Having successfully come out to close friends, I began playing games of pick up basketball with friends and finding myself enjoying it for the first time for as long as I could remember.
At this point, my biggest ally was a member of our basketball team, Adam Kemp, a New York native and college athlete himself. Currently, Adam Kemp is an NBA prospect, having played overseas this past winter in Macedonia and agreeing to join the Detroit Pistons with their summer league team. With his constant support, I began to let myself have fun playing sports.
I began to find that excitement and spark I once felt, taking pride in any moment where people left impressed with my ability to play sport. Having fun playing again was a factor in obtaining an internship on campus with Marist Athletics. It ultimately led to me realizing new dreams/goals for myself. By the time I left Marist, I was more than an openly gay student. I was an employee, gay intern, and student worker across campus.
It was no more a defining characteristic than my height; the color of my hair, or my eyes, the list goes on. During those two years with Marist Athletics, I met unsuspecting allies and friends who made it clear my sexual orientation was not their concern, they judged me on whether or not I could do my job. They showed me love and support, even at times when I refused to believe it was there.
Success stories come in various shapes and sizes. My story is one all too common for people who lost their love of sport due to their sexual orientation. They never felt welcomed, ultimately walking away from something they loved because they felt it did not love them. While some power through, and find the ability to hide in the closet for their sport, I could not. I used to say that I was bitter, and would never get over it. But somewhere along the way, I woke up one day and realized that everything I had been through served a bigger purpose.
Inspired by individuals such as Rick Weltz, my goals have realigned from wanting to be a college or a professional athlete. I am an openly gay man with aspirations to work in college athletics, proving that dreams are valid, and the closet temporary. I want my story of initial regret, kicking myself to have tried more, to inspire others to take advantage of the positive growth we have seen in society.
I appreciate my story, and today I would even say that I’m thankful for it. I will never be an athlete in the way I dreamt, but I can still inspire and change the lives of people in other platforms. For those before me and those alongside me in my generation, I want both current amateur athletes and future amateur athletes, to never be afraid to play in their own skin. To live free across multiple levels is truly the greatest uniform they will ever be able to wear.
Michael Brosseau is a former amateur athlete and two-year intern with Marist College Athletics. He graduated from Marist in May ’14, and currently works at Northeastern University in Boston, where he is attending graduate school for his Master’s in Sport Leadership. Contact him on Twitter (@mike_bross), Instagram: (@leahcim_Mike), or email (Michael.Brosseau1@gmail.com)