His players may not have thought it was a big deal, but coming out for University of California, Santa Barbara women’s tennis coach Simon Thibodeau was a long journey of self-discovery, that makes him one of the few openly gay college coaches.
“It’s just scary,” Thibodeau told The New York Times. “Maybe there’s some fear that’s not rational — that you’re going to be rejected or laughed at. I guess I’m not scared so much, but it just hasn’t been done. I don’t know anyone.”
Thibodeau, 40, remained closeted until he reached that landmark birthday in May. He had, he said, a dozen girlfriends over the years and even had a daughter with one of them, but he was repressing his true self. He became, as he put it, “an expert at lying.” He finally became comfortable with being gay three years ago when he met a queen in San Francisco, who talked about it “like the weather.”
Thibodeau began the process of coming out in his personal life, but coming out in his professional life proved a different challenge. According to the NYT:
Among thousands of N.C.A.A. Division I head coaches in various sports, the list of publicly out coaches — male or female — is short. It includes the Portland State women’s basketball coach, Sherri Murrell; the Kennesaw State men’s (and former women’s) tennis coach, T. J. Greggs; and Kirk Walker, the longtime softball coach at Oregon State, now an assistant at U.C.L.A.
Walker came out to his Oregon State softball team in 2005, becoming the first openly gay Division I coach. He estimates that there are 100 gay coaches in college softball alone, among probably hundreds of gay coaches in all sports, but they’re reluctant to publicly come out.
“It’s a self-perpetuated homophobia that is being perpetuated, year in and year out, because coaches choose not to disrupt their lives,” Walker said.
But Thibodeau is willing to disrupt, as he begins to reconcile his private and public lives. “And because I’m in the public, maybe it can make a difference.”