"I'm so f***ing scared," thought LZ Granderson, an openly gay ESPN.com journalist, when the LA Lakers asked him who his Hollywood crush was.
Granderson, who has been out for over 10 years, said he grappled with the decision of what to tell these athletes—grappled, he said, until he saw his son standing behind them watching. It was then he realized that he had to tell the truth about his sexuality, or everything he taught his son would be a lie.
"Hugh Jackman," Granderson told the Lakers. There was a moment of tense silence, as the players tried to figure out exactly what had just happened.
Granderson told this story, among many other personal anecdotes of what it's like to be out in the world of professional sports, during his lecture, "Men, Manhood, and Mayhem: The Real Reasons Behind Homophobia in Sports." The talk was part of last Friday's Anything But Straight in Athletics conference, which sought to address issues surrounding homophobic aspects of athletic cultures.
Though Granderson has been one of the most well-known out journalists since he began in his field, he still struggled to "come out again" to the Lakers. He described the fear involved in coming out to someone, and said "you've got to reach deep down and get over that fear."
Granderson's lecture emphasized the presence of gay athletes who are not out. He said he knows at least 10 current professional athletes who are closeted.
He highlighted that one of the biggest issues with athletes and intolerance is "their image of gay people, men in particular," reminding the audience that RuPaul and the characters of "Will & Grace" would not necessarily be their teammates. Granderson's talk enthralled the audience, his energy contagious and his confidence astounding.
After the talk, Granderson joined Bowdoin coaches and LGBTIQ students at an invitation-only dinner that was attended by representatives from every varsity team.
The day of the conference began with photographer Jeff Sheng's talk and presentation of his projects.
Sheng, an openly gay photographer, displayed photos from his projects "Fearless" and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which both aim to shed light on two arenas for their rejection of homosexuals: sports and the military. "Fearless" is Sheng's first project and consists of portraits of gay athletes in their sports gear, staring directly into the camera.
Sheng chose this stance because he found that "the only way to get someone to stop staring at you is to stare back."
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" features portraits of military personnel in full uniform, for the most part alone in their bedrooms, alluding to the loneliness of life as a closeted soldier. Both projects consist of stark, moving images and have received considerable media attention.
While at Bowdoin, Sheng used the opportunity to add more brave out athletes to his project. Five Bowdoin students were photographed and will join the "Fearless" ranks; one of them was junior lacrosse player Ben Chadwick.
"At first I was a little nervous," Chadwick said. "It's really throwing yourself out there, but at the end of the day it's really a good thing that can help other people."
Chadwick said he was one of those people helped by Sheng's work.
"I found it when I was closeted and it definitely helped me to know there were other people out there like me."
Chadwick and those involved in organizing the event, said that the conference brought issues of homophobia in athletics to the fore at Bowdoin. Judging by the high attendence of the day's events, the campus seems headed in the right direction, said participants.
"I think it's definitely on the right path, very open-minded," Chadwick said. "Everyone can do a small part, whether it be simply watching your language or really getting involved in the issue, joining BMASV or Safe Space. Everyone can do a little something."
Chadwick said he is personally encouraged by the support he has received since coming out to his team.
"My team is unbelievably supportive, I've had full support from my teammates. They have my back 100 percent."
"Don't forget what you guys have done today," Granderson said to the attendees of his talk. "Let this be the catalyst. It's all about you guys, all about the students, all about the future."