Saturday, May 08, 2010

Andrew McIntosh: Everyday Hero

Have you heard the story about Andrew McIntosh? As a young man in sports, he struggled to come to terms with being gay. After his team lost a football game and with it, a chance at the playoffs, Andrew tried to commit suicide. He blamed being gay for his failure on the field; he said, “I just thought, you cannot be a gay athlete... gay and athlete don’t go together.” Luckily, with family, friends and teammates behind him, Andrew has been able to be open and proud of who he is. The New York Times' Katie Thomas profiles Andrew's story, and I found it quite uplifting. Below is an excerpt.

Katie Thomas writes:
The Oneonta men’s lacrosse team marched two by two onto the field, sticks held with purpose for the final home game of the season.

Tough and menacing is the team’s reputation around this State University of New York campus in the foothills of the Catskills.

Even Dan Mahar, the head coach, acknowledges his players are viewed as a bit “rough around the edges.”

But this season, the team is developing a new reputation — as models of tolerance — after one of its captains announced in an online essay in February that he was gay.

The senior, Andrew McIntosh, said he had not heard a single disparaging comment from his teammates.

“I was embraced with open arms,” he said. “I had teammates come up and give me handshakes, and people saying it takes a lot of guts to do that.”

Sports have long been viewed as inhospitable to gay men.

The number of male professional team athletes who have come out can be counted on two hands.

In locker rooms, antigay slurs are tossed around as casually as borrowed towels.

As he entered high school, sports became a refuge from what McIntosh described as confusing feelings about his sexuality.

“I took sports so seriously because I didn’t have a personal life,” he said. “That was my partner. I didn’t have anything to fall back on.”

At 6 feet 2 inches and 215 pounds, he is an imposing defender and quickly became a starter.

Mahar said that bus drivers and high-school recruits sometimes confused McIntosh for a coach.

“He has just very mature, very likeable qualities to him,” Mahar said.

One afternoon in the spring of 2009, Mahar pulled the team out of practice after some players described one of his drills as “gay.”

Mahar said he had been hearing such language on the bus and during practice.

“Regardless of how you feel about whether being gay is right or wrong,” Mahar said he told the team, “the language is not appropriate.”

For McIntosh, it was a welcome signal.

“I had never heard a coach say that before,” McIntosh said.

That summer, McIntosh decided to confront his sexual identity.

It had been a good year — he had adjusted well, and Mahar had recently named him one of four team captains for his senior year.

Later that summer, McIntosh told his coach, broaching the topic first in an e-mail message.

For McIntosh, telling Mahar and other athletes presented the greatest risk of rejection.

“I didn’t want to seem vulnerable,” he said. “I didn’t want people to think, ‘Oh, he’s not doing too well mentally.’ ”

Mahar said he tried to make McIntosh feel as comfortable as possible.

Several of the players said they were surprised, but ultimately unfazed by McIntosh’s news.

“It’s not every day that your lacrosse captain comes out to you,” said Joe Schofield, 20, a sophomore. “I was a little surprised, but it was kind of like, ‘Oh, that makes sense.’ ”

In the locker room, McIntosh said, “it’s business as usual. We talk about life and how is your day going.”

If anything, McIntosh and his teammates said, the situation makes for some good jokes.

On a team trip to North Carolina earlier this year, “some of us said, ‘I hope a girls’ soccer team shows up at the hotel,’ ” recalled Andy Morris, 20, and a sophomore. “Mac goes, ‘I hope a guys’ soccer team shows up.’ ”