The Gay Philly Football Star
Chely Wright has put the queer into country.
Faster than you can say “Shut Up and Drive,” Wright came out yesterday to People.com, making her the first-ever mainstream country star to emerge from behind the sexual curtain.
Why do we mention this? Because Chely Wright has a Philadelphia counterpart in the “first and only” homo department.
Brian Sims, chairman of Equality Advocates of Pennsylvania and a Bloomsburg University alum (Class of ’00), was the first openly-gay college football captain in NCAA history. A Division II All American at defensive tackle, Sims played at 280 pounds. Now 210, he runs ultra-marathons and is training for a 75-miler in Philly in November.
“How cool that Chely Wright could come out,” says Sims, 31, who still hangs with his teammates from Bloomsburg and Downingtown High. “I’m sure she had a support network telling her, ‘You can do this and it will be fine.’”
It will be lucrative, too, by golly. By sheer coincidence, Wright’s new memoir, Like Me, and new album, Lifted Off the Ground, both hit the stands today.
For Sims, coming out to his gridiron buds wasn’t exactly his choice. During his senior year, with Bloomsburg in the running for the national Division II title, “my quarterback asked me if I was gay,” Sims remembers. “I told him I was. He talked to the team.”
To a man, the Huskies backed their captain, according to Sims. (Then again, who wouldn’t back a 280-pound All American?)
Sims admits he was surprised by the team’s reaction.
“There’s an assumption that many Americans think football is not ready for gay players,” he says. “I had the same assumption. I spent years around these guys. There were always gay jokes. I had never seen them around other gay people, so I didn’t have a frame of reference.”
The 2000 Huskies, in Sims’ words, were “kind of a quirky, blue-collar team. I called us ‘the Isle of Misfit Toys.’ For a lot of guys, just being at college was a first for their families. We weren’t hot shots. Our quarterback was married and had a kid.”
Sims now visits colleges around the country to discuss homophobia in sports, among other issues. He has yet to meet an out football player.
“By and large, football tends to be the most visible team sport in college. It’s the most fan heavy, the most media heavy, the most viewer heavy. There’s a loss of anonymity.
“It’s not like you’re coming out to your 20 best friends.”
Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Go for six.
GAIL SHISTER, TV columnist for the Inquirer for 25 years, teaches writing at Penn and is a columnist for tvnewser.com. She writes for The Philly Post on Tuesdays.