Coming out was no easy swing for 22-year-old Notre Dame tennis star Matt Dooley. But not because he was worried about what his teammates or coach would think.
‘‘It’s internal homophobia,’’ he said. ‘‘Often time it’s more of what you think of yourself.’’
But for Dooley it’s been an inspiring journey from his attempted suicide a year ago to where he is today.
“That day I wanted nothing more than to escape the anguish of coming out to my family, my friends, and, in a way, myself. Death was better than accepting – or revealing – that I was gay,” he recently wrote in a first-person piece for Outsports.
For nearly seven weeks to follow he isolated himself from the world, paralyzed by fear — fear of his true self, of his future and of how he would fit into the world. His Catholic church-going upbringing and military family (not to mention his attendance at the fairly conservative Christian Notre Dame) confused matters even more.
But he had a breakthrough when he was finally able to reach out to those around him, and it was their support and love — from family and close friends — that began to shift his own sense of self.
“[I've] learned to value myself and accept my sexuality as something that’s neither good nor evil, but is just an essential part of who I am. I’ve learned to respect myself and expect it from others. I have learned to trust again and, maybe most importantly, I’ve realized that I am not alone. There are others just like me, combatting the same fear of abandonment and worthlessness every single day.”
He was finally ready to tell his other family — his teammates.
“Every single member of the team and coaching staff was extremely supportive, many echoing gratitude for my honesty and, in a way, bringing the team closer together. That day reaffirmed my strong belief that we, the athletes of Notre Dame, are truly a brotherhood.”
It goes without saying, but we love hearing stories like Matt’s, and commend him for putting his personal struggles out there for public consumption.
Because just like he said, there are others out there in his shoes, battling the same demons he finally conquered. And while we as proud gay people can be moved and inspired by his story, for those still struggling to come to terms with their sexuality — especially in athletics — Matt’s and other athletes’ stories of acceptance can truly be life changing.