Young gay athlete’s message of healing and hope

Ask anyone, even those deemed most popular, and there will be a memory of some incident proving a sad reality: kids can be cruel. Kids can also be kind, stunningly so. But, even well-intentioned people (of all ages) often feel pressured to mock anything deemed “uncool”.

Casual homophobic slurs remain easy throw-away lines, especially in the world of athletics.

The Ottawa Citizen’s Saturday Observer recently recounted an uplifting example of trying to make things better: “A Gay Jock Takes Off the Mask“. It’s about Scott Heggart who always loved hockey, football and basketball, but felt marginalized by the homophobic cracks ingrained in sporting culture. Marginalized is putting it kindly. At times, so much unthinking hostility left him wrestling with suicidal thoughts.

Eventually, Heggart summoned the nerve to tell his parents and siblings he was gay. Together they established their family’s love was not defined by sexual orientation. This is what his dad, Randy Heggart, had to say to other parents:

“This isn’t about you,” Randy says to the camera. “This is about your child. They haven’t changed; it’s your perception of them. If you loved your child before you found out they were gay, that shouldn’t change … If you think you’re having a hard time, imagine how they felt.”

While in grade 10 Scott Heggart came out as an anonymous gay teen athlete on You Tube. (His series of videos have now been seen by over a half million viewers overall.) Finally, he took the hardest step yet, identifying himself as gay on his Facebook page, while still playing sports in high school. As that news went around, he was surprised by his peer’s reactions:

His inbox filled up with messages from teammates and classmates, every last one expressing respect and support.

One teammate wrote, “If I was in your shoes, I wouldn’t have had the balls to do that.”

Some of Scott’s teammates apologized for previous slurs. A former football teammate apologized “on behalf of everybody” for making him “feel so uncomfortable.”

There were some nasty comments too, mostly from strangers. It was not a risk-free path. But there were fewer negative responses than one might expect.

Scott, now 21, still can’t make sense of why his teammates had seemed so homophobic, yet supported him unconditionally given the chance. He’s come to learn that “kids say stuff they don’t mean,” and just because they say anti-gay things it doesn’t mean that they “hate homosexuals.”

He says most coaches tolerate or even encourage an atmosphere where making fun of homosexuals, even for comic effect, is OK. He remembers certain coaches participating in the anti-gay banter. He hopes that sports leagues will adopt a policy of “zero tolerance” for the hurtful, chronic assaults against gays athletes, imagined and real.

Heggart has become a featured speaker at anti-bullying campaigns.

Why do all this so publicly?  To try make things better.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much of a difference that type of campaign would have made to me when I was going through my stuff in Grade 8,” he says. “Campaigns like this will help teenagers accept themselves for who they are.”

Still, what is missing is for one professional football or hockey player to come out. But Scott, perhaps more than anyone, understands the challenge. “I hope I see it in my lifetime.”

There are real signs of change, including a hockey-themed message campaign called “If you can play, you can play“. Which asks people to take the following stand:

Locker rooms should be safe and sports venues should be free from homophobia. Athletes should be judged on talent, heart and work ethic, not sexual orientation.

Is this a conversation coaches, players and parents are willing to tackle?

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6 Comments on “Young gay athlete’s message of healing and hope”

  1. Josh says:

    Well, that’s inspiring.

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  2. jeff says:

    I like that line, “just because they say anti-gay things doesn’t mean that they hate homosexuals.” It isn’t necessarily “anti-gay” things people say nor are they “homophobic.” It certainly takes courage to speak against the flow because it can bring out a rain of vitriol.

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  3. Pete Klein says:

    I hope this doesn’t get misunderstood but real progress won’t be made until the day comes when no one feels the need to “come out” and announce they are gay or lesbian.

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  4. Pete K: you’re message is not misunderstood. It’s absolutely right. We’re just not close to that point yet, even if we’re moving closer.

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  5. To do that as a 10th grader, that guy had/has guts. Reminds me of that kid from Saranac Lake NCPR profiled last year.

    I also think it’s telling that most of the nastiness came from scum who didn’t even know him. It just goes to show what you see on political online forums all the time: people are “courageous” enough to demonize unknown people anonymously behind the veil of their computer screen but when it’s someone you actually know, you’re much less likely to be a mindless ideologue and more likely to see and treat them as a human being.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  6. jeff says:

    Essentially Pete is saying that society would change to the point that the topic would no longer be news. Perhaps too real progress would be for some who have come out to decide they changed their mind and not feel inhibited about saying so.

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