Gay and bi athletes differ in experiences

by Beacon Staff • February 22, 2006

When she attended high school at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., she kept it from her softball teammates.

She played softball all four years of her high school career. Junior writing, literature and publishing (WLP) major Jennifer Boyden had a high school secret. Something not even her parents knew about.

When she attended high school at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., she kept it from her softball teammates.

She played softball all four years of her high school career.

When she was a freshman, she first identified herself as a lesbian.

She was too scared, however, to tell anyone on her team.

"[I didn't tell anyone] because of the type of high school I went to," Boyden said. "It was 3,000 students. I didn't know anyone and I didn't trust any of them."

Boyden is still unsure if her teammates from high school knew of her orientation at the time.

"I don't know if they knew then, but they all know now because of Facebook," she said, referring to the social networking Web site. "I put it out there."

Gay athletes have traditionally had to keep their orientation a secret from their team.

In Boyden's case, the reason was a fear of being the only one on her squad.

But another current Emerson student had a different experience in his high school.

Matt Sheehan, a junior writing and directing for theatre film major said he started playing baseball when he was five years old and knew he was bisexual at age eight.

"That's when I understood I was attracted to both sexes," he said.

When he played baseball for Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School in North Dighton, Mass., he said some of the players knew, but it didn't become a topic of discussion.

"There was never a need to bring that up," he said. "My sexuality has nothing to do with my playing sports. It was fun [because] we were playing baseball. The people on the team I was friends with knew, but there was never a need to tell the team. It was none of their business."

While Sheehan felt strangers didn't need to know, Boyden said if she could live her high school days over again, she would have told her team, simply because she wasn't close to any of her teammates.

She also doesn't think her sexuality is as big of a deal as it was back then.

"It's not like I made any kind of lasting friendships," she said.

Boyden said she chose to attend Emerson because of the school's reputation of having a positive gay community.

She also said some of the former teammates on Emerson's softball squad were gay, so Boyden was not alone.

"High school was a matter of being alone," Boyden said. "There was no reason to hide it here because if you come to Emerson, you kind of expect it."

Sheehan, on the other hand, was offered full baseball scholarships to several Division I schools such as the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), but instead chose Emerson.

"I didn't have the desire to play competitive baseball," he said. "There was a lot going on in my life. I came to Emerson because of its arts and not for sports. I reprioritized what I want to achieve."

Sheehan did attend a few baseball practices when he was a freshman but was turned away because of the time commitment and what he felt were negative views of gays and bisexuals held by the 2003-2004 head coach.

"I found it appalling that a coach at a [Division] III school would demand a lot of time from his players," Sheehan said. "I [also] didn't appreciate the kind of comments he made . he didn't take the time to realize one of his players could be gay or bi. I was dealing with an ignorant man, and I don't like ignorant people."

The coach could not be reached for comment.

Dave Bartlett, a member of the 2004 men's baseball team and former Beacon assistant sports editor, confirmed the coach had made what he considered homophobic comments during a van ride in Florida with the team.

Bartlett said he recalled his former coach talk about how male flight attendants made him "nervous" and made derogatory hand gestures.

Sheehan said he wonders why professional sports teams are also not always willing to accept gay athletes.

"I'm curious as to why, with sports, it's always preceded by the image of the people to be predominantly straight male," he said.

Boyden said she believes it is tougher for a gay or bi man to play on a team than a gay woman, because of the image.

"For guys, it's considered a lot more," she said. "They'll play the sex aspect. The girls are trying to break the stereotype of girls [in] sports being lesbians, especially softball. If you have someone on the team, it propitiates the image."

She went on to say that when her playing career at Emerson is finished, she hopes she is remembered for her accolades on the field.

"I would rather be known for my achievements in softball versus this other thing that I am," she said.

Sheehan said he believes that it will take some time for gay athletes to be known only as athletes.

He said he feels that education is improving because many people are beginning to realize being gay is not a disease.

There are, however, those who are still preoccupied with labeling others, he said.

"As [German philosopher Georg W.F.] Hegel said, 'there's different truths for different times.' We live in a time where being gay or bi is not accepted by some," Sheehan said. "[With] a reformation of education in this country, maybe people can understand sexuality is a personal entity. It doesn't have to affect what you do in the outside world or how you interact with people."