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One of the captains of the high school football team had something big he wanted to tell the other players. "I was so anxious," remembers middle linebacker Corey Johnson, a senior at Masconomet High in Topsfield, Mass., "I thought I was going to vomit."
He took a hard gulp. "I want to let all of you guys know something about me." He tried not to let his voice quake. "I'm coming out as an openly gay student here."
His teammates' eyes and mouths went wide as soup plates. "I hope this won't change anything," Corey quickly went on. "I didn't come on to you last year in the locker room, and I won't this year. I didn't touch you last year in the locker room, and I won't this year."
"Besides, who says you guys are good enough anyway?"
And you know what happened? They laughed! But that's not the best part. The best part is what happened next. Nothing.
Corey's teammates had no problem with his sexual orientation. His coach had no problem with it. His mom and dad and his sister had no problem with it. His teachers, his counselor—nobody—had a problem with it.
O.K., somebody scrawled FOOTBALL FAG on a door at school. True, one cementhead parent asked coach Jim Pugh to have the team take a new vote on the captaincy, but Pugh told him to stuff it. And, yeah, one week the opposing team's captain kept hollering, "Get the fag!" but his coach finally benched him (and Masconomet fricasseed that team 25-0).
No opponent refused to play against Corey. No opposing coach said, "Boys, the Lord wants you to go out and crush that heathen!" Nobody held up a sign at a Masconomet game that read WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON, COREY? Nope. Corey Johnson, guard-linebacker, wrestler, lacrosse player, just went out and played his senior football season, same as ever. Masconomet did well (7-4 for the season, 25-8 with Corey, a two-way starter for three years). Now Corey is getting on with his life, hopeful as ever. He'll graduate with his class next month, think about playing small-college football and become a gay activist, a journey that began on Sunday at the Millennium March on Washington for Equality.
Can't wait for Corey to be on a gay parade float when some beer-bellied yahoo hollers, "Hey, girls! Shoe sale next corner!" The football captain might turn the poor schmo into a smudge mark.