Thanks to Michael Brosseau for contributing this story to our Project: Speak series on athletes’ experiences with mental health in their coming out stories.
I’m just a kid from Franklin, MA.
I’m not a famous retired athlete, I didn’t even play college basketball. I barely played high school basketball, though that’s a story for another time. Once upon a time, I wanted to be a professional athlete, and when that failed I decided I wanted to work in sports. Though I kill it in whatever men’s league I manage to find myself playing in, that is about the extent of my athletic career.
My real story though, has been detailed by GO! Athletes previously. Given that I love to talk, it only makes sense that I love to write more. Mental health is not something that can be quantified. You cannot compare the X’s and O’s of mental health, because mental health is something that impacts people differently, but that should not mean that someone suffers more or less than someone else. No one should feel his or her mental health is trivial to someone else’s. The fact that LGBT youth, especially LGBT athletes, have to suffer at all is a major concern. I say this because LGBT youth alone are reportedly at a higher risk of suffering from mental health issues. Tie in an aspect of culture that is considered to be for the toughest of men and women, and you have LGBT athletes in society today.
Everyone knew that something was different about me as a kid. It was not until I was about thirteen years old that the reality kicked in that I am gay, and that life had the possibility of being really complicated because of it. As far as I knew, sports were not a place for the LGBT community. The toughest survived in sports, they were the strongest, the fastest, the most talented, and got all the girls. Clearly, I did not get all the girls. My first memory of being different is when someone told me I ran like a girl. I quickly fixed that. I even remember a summer league game where my voice cracked, getting super high and I got teased for it. I was often told, when I was younger, that I played softly. As I got older, I made sure that never happened again. People see your weaknesses, and do anything to use it against you.
I heard gay slurs before I knew what it meant to be gay, hearing someone call someone else a faggot hammered home the point that being gay was something to be embarrassed by. I wish I had known then to embrace my sexuality, as opposed to reject it. In retrospect, I don’t know how I managed to hide that I was gay from the age of thirteen to my freshman year of college when I came out. I played sports year round, both basketball and soccer, the fear only growing that I would be outed. It consumes you, and puts you in a dark place you cannot be sure you will ever come out of. In that place, you do not see or believe that it gets better. I would always act tough, play tough, and do whatever I needed to fit in and not raise any flags. If someone knew of my dark, filthy secret, I would never be able to play sports. I once bit through my tongue in a soccer game, and started bleeding profusely. I refused to come out, and played through it. In an AAU basketball game, I ran after a loose ball into a cement wall knee first, running over chairs first to get there. I got up and walked away, and kept playing. The chairs were broken. I did those things because it’s important to be tough in sports, and I hated the notion I was not as tough as the other guys on my team; my new goal was to set out and show them that I was tougher.
A mind warped in fear is not a right mind. It does not allow for thinking or acting reasonably because you live in a world where everything you do is potentially perceived as being gay, or a whole slew of anti-gay words. If you brush up against someone, you fear they’ll know. If you say something even the slightest bit feminine, you fear that everyone will turn to you and call you out on it. Every step, every action, is something you worry about outing you to people you fear will reject you.
A decade later from the year I pieced together that I was gay, and we still live in a world where people live in fear, and suffer from mental health issues because of it. Athletes who do come out and share their stories, my personal favorite is Robbie Rogers, often cite that they were afraid of losing something, whether it be their job, their family, etc. They often experience depression because of how their secret impacts them on a daily basis, losing the joy of playing the sport they fell in love with as a young child. In due time, they all came to a place of sharing their story. The fact is however, that they had to live so much of their youth as a lie is demoralizing. A child growing up should not have to worry if his or her family will love them for being gay, or if teammates will reject or accept their sexual orientation. An LGBT youth should never think that suicide is a solution to their struggle, that they are alone in struggling with something. We can do more, and should do more, to help them see that. Life is hard enough trying to find your way in this world, never mind trying to embrace your sexuality in a world that may use it to destroy you.
Through my graduate program at Northeastern University in Sport Leadership, a question that I often respond to is what would you do if you were in a position of leadership in sport? If you were in a position of power at a college/university, the Commissioner of a league or conference, what would you do? How would you foster an environment that embraces athletes of all backgrounds? As a former amateur athlete, I’m in a position of leadership to bring attention to the issue of mental health issues for LGBT athletes so that no other athlete past, present, or future experiences mental health issues. While my dreams of being a professional athlete never came true, I’ve learned along the way that there are more ways to impact sport, one may argue more important ways.
Looking back on my life, I would not change a thing about my journey and how I got to this point in my life. The struggles I experienced helped shaped me into who I am today, and although I wish I had better experiences growing up, I learned quickly that if you do not embrace yourself, no one else will. But this discussion of mental health in LGBT athletes is bigger than just my story. Sport should be an all-inclusive place for anyone, and it is on us to create an environment of inclusion in sport. Through it all though, I’ve managed to keep one thing in the back of my head.
I’m still the kid from Franklin, and though the road was long, eventually I found my way. If I can do it, so can you. Embrace who you are, and do not take crap from anyone. I refuse to live my life the way others want, taking a stand for what I know is right. And I highly encourage you to do the same.
A 2014 graduate of Marist College with a Bachelors’s Degree in Communications, Brosseau hails originally from Franklin, Massachusetts. Currently, he works for Northeastern University Undergraduate Admissions, and is pursuing a Master’s of Science in Sport Leadership from the College of Professional Studies at Northeastern. In addition to sports, writing, photography, and the pursuit of happiness occupy his spare time. He can be reached at Michael.Brosseau1@gmail.com, Instagram michael_bross, and Twitter:@mike_bross. He currently lives in Boston.