Coach knows struggles of being gay in football
Reno, Nev. (AP) — He played a physical, violent, brutal game. One that tends to weed out weaker players.
Shane Wickes excelled at football while playing on the offensive line at McQueen, earning All-Region and All-State honors. But he struggled with being homosexual in the testosterone-driven world, reported the Reno Gazette-Journal (http://on.rgj.com/28PTQ1D).
Wickes was not just a benchwarmer, now looking for his 15 minutes of fame. He was a standout 6-foot-3, 240-pound lineman at McQueen, graduating in 2012 then walking on the Boise State football team before a knee injury ended his playing career.
He coached at McQueen for three seasons, and is now coaching linemen at Reed, the five-time defending Northern Region champion.
Now Wickes just wants to help other kids who might be struggling the way he did.
He did not fully admit to himself he was gay while playing football.
"When I was in high school, I had an idea that I was gay. But there's no way, no how. Never," he said. "There's that stigma of, you're a football player. Football is this tough, rugged, manly sport. It wasn't until I got to college that I was like, 'Ok, well, this is actually who you are and you've got figure out a way to do it.'"
NFL player Michael Sam had come out the summer before Wickes went to Boise. It took Wickes three more years to come out.
Wickes said the football culture is one of don't ask, don't tell. To that end, he is working with the Sports Equality Foundation to help educate people.
Wickes delivered a TEDx talk at the University of Nevada, Reno last fall, about being a gay athlete and football coach and why he thought he should come out.
"It was really hard to live a normal life, but stay in the closet at the same time. It was a really tough deal that a lot of people go through," Wickes said. "It was putting a lot of stress and pressure on me. I kind of came to realization that I either needed to walk away from football or see if I could come out and make it work."
At McQueen, he struggled with letting his friends, teammates and coaches know he is gay and admits he suffered from depression and substance abuse.
He came out publicly last Thanksgiving, although he says many friends already knew.
He wants other young athletes, who might be facing a similar situation, to know there is hope and that they are not alone.
"I've met other people going through the same situation," he said. "That stigma is so isolating and it keeps people from living a normal life and connecting with other people who are like them."
Wickes said a former coach told him a football locker room is offensive to everyone.
"But there's a difference between being offensive and being hateful," Wickes said.
He hopes to raise awareness to let athletes know there are other people going through the same situation.
"People are terrified to come out. It's a tough thing to do," he said.
He searched the internet hoping to find other athletes who had come out and learn how they dealt with it. He found nothing.
But after his talk at the Pioneer Center, a national organization, the Sports Equality Foundation, contacted Wickes, as did the Equality Coaches Alliance.
That was when he learned he is not alone.
"There are other people who can help you through that process and give advice," he said.
"There's not that many gay people in sports, especially at the higher levels of football," Wickes said.
Wickes learned a lot from then-Boise State coach Chris Peterson. He said it was not just all football, but more about being a good person and good coach.
"I learned a lot of football knowledge, but I also learned how to go about coaching and doing things the right way," Wickes said. "How to be a good coach. How to be a good leader. Incorporating life into football."
Reed coach Ernie Howren called Wickes a great young coach and said he's excited to have him on the Raiders' staff. Howren coached Wickes in the Sertoma Game, which pitted the area's best football players in a mid-summer football game. The Sertoma game is no longer played.
"I knew then he was an amazing young man. I didn't know he'd be a coach, but you could see in his attitude that he's a team guy. He's all about the team and the coaches," Howren said.
Howren is proud of the courage Wickes has shown in coming out.
"When you look at the world of football, it's not the most accepting to somebody that is gay. People are finally coming around," Howren said. "He has that courage and that spirit to let people know who he is and that's the kind of guy I want coaching for us. A guy who takes pride in himself."
Wickes' TEDx talk is available on YouTube.
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com
By Jim Krajewski, Reno Gazette-Journal. Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The Gayly – July 1, 2016 @ 7:20 a.m.