Yes, everyone chooses their own path to coming out. I'm not talking about outing people. And yes, coming out is a personal journey that affects people closest to you. I totally understand. Yet these few simple words from this weekend having been ringing in my ears for the last 48 hours:
"This is the power of sports."
Sitting in the back office of the home of Andrew Goldstein and his husband, Jamie, Sunday afternoon, those first words introducing ESPN's 11-minute feature on The Courage Game brought an overwhelming swell of emotion in me. I knew the story that was coming, though I didn't know exactly how ESPN would tell it (though with Greg Garber and his team in the mix, I had an inkling). Yet that simple reminder about what we were going to watch -- the power of sports -- hit me hard.
The story of Goldstein, a former professional lacrosse player, and Braeden Lange, a 12-year-old lacrosse player, isn't just about the struggles of a kid facing torment in his school. It's not just about a retired professional athlete rekindling his relationship with his sport.
At its core, the story of the Courage Game -- a lacrosse game to support LGBT inclusion -- and the unlikely friendship of these two people is about the cultural responsibility of people in sports to help people and to change lives. Watching the ESPN piece with Goldstein and his family brought me more present with the power of someone like Goldstein to help other people.
It also made me more frustrated than ever with the professional athletes -- both current and former -- who refuse to come out and join Goldstein in the push to save kids' lives, athletes who refuse to harness the power of sports to make sure no LGBT athlete ever experiences "dark" thoughts ever again.
I get it. Coming out can be scary. Agents and teammates and confidants will tell them not to do it. In professional sports we have the incredibly successful story of Robbie Rogers and the concerning results of Michael Sam coming out -- on the one hand, it's a mixed bag of reactions at the professional level.
We focus so heavily on the possible negative repercussions of pro athletes coming out. Losing a spot on a team. Loss of endorsement deals. Fans might pull back. Teammates may isolate them. Virtually all of it has been proven false by Rogers, Sam and others like Jason Collins, Brittney Griner and Megan Rapinoe. Yet the "scary repercussions of coming out in pro sports" is still the regular drumbeat of members of the media, athletes and fans.
The inner circles of these gay pro athletes will tell them, "There's too much risk."
The Courage Game shows us the incredible reward.
The "Courage Game" was so aptly named because of the fear we direct at LGBT athletes. Courage is, by definition, acting in the face of fear, not fearlessness. When I do media interviews so many of the questions are about the "struggles" of coming out, the possible locker room pitfalls, the potential for negative reaction from teammates and fans. I virtually never get questions about the possible benefits of coming out -- increased self-esteem, a vibrant community waiting to embrace them, potential financial opportunities.
The ability to help other LGBT athletes -- to yes, actually save people's lives -- is the most powerful opportunity of all.
While education and policy are important to building support for these kids struggling with their identities, nothing replaces the visibility of other athletes coming out in shifting their mental well-being and building their courage. Nothing.
Virtually every gay male pro athlete -- and many women in college and the pros -- frankly doesn't value their role in that as much as they should. Yes, I said it -- they should. They're more interested in living in the shadows of fear and protecting their own self-interests, than taking the leap to help kids like Braden find acceptance and love. It's always their choice to come out or not, but their choice is still building increasing frustration in me.
Thankfully Goldstein chose a different path 11 years ago. At the highest level of college lacrosse he came out publicly before the 2015 Major League Lacrosse Draft, in which he was selected 29th (and last) overall by the Boston Cannons. He played two seasons in MLL with two different teams before opting for medical school in Los Angeles.
"I would hope that some 14-, 15-year-old, who like me goes home every night like I used to do and cries and worries about what's going to happen," Goldstein told ESPN in 2005, "I hope he would see it and say, 'oh, there is hope, there's a life I can live and be myself."
A decade later, Lange found Goldstein's inspiration and stopped considering suicide.
"I was that 14- or 15-year-old kid, except I'm 12," Lange said. "And it really gave me a lot of hope knowing I could just live my life being myself."
The love in the room at Goldstein's house Sunday afternoon was palpable. Parents, friends and family had gathered to experience The Courage Game and pass around a couple tissue boxes. After the spot we talked about everyone's growing disappointment that more professional athletes -- particularly on the men's side -- don't come out.
"At least we have Andrew and Braeden," someone said.
A pro-sports prospect with everything to lose and a 12-year-old kid.
That's a pretty damn good start for a game about courage.