Paul M. Banks has an exclusive and candid interview with a social trailblazer and role model to many people.
Brian Sims is a former College Football star, prominent legal professional, crusader for LGBT civil rights and inspiration to many. For some reason, the mainstream media has yet to tell his amazing story, so I will…
Paul M. Banks: For those who haven’t heard your story, tell us about your experiences during your senior year on the Bloomsburg University football team- how you guys did on the field, as well as how you came out to your team.
Brian K. Sims: The 2000 season was the winningest in Bloomsburg University and PSAC ( Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) history. We started the season 0-2 and then went on a 12 game winning streak all the way to the National Championship Game. It sounds cliché to say that the season was magical, but it was something that we all felt throughout the entire year…it was palpable. By mid-season we knew that we were good, very good, but also that we couldn’t lose a single game or we’d be out of any playoffs. We also knew that even if we did continue winning, there was still a chance we wouldn’t make the post season.
I remember when we beat Indiana University of Pennsylvania that year. I don’t believe Bloomsburg had beaten IUP in almost 15 years. It was pretty incredible. Once into the playoffs we were pretty unstoppable. We played our first two playoff games at home against teams from the mid-West and then went on the road to Cal-Davis for the Semi-finals. For some of my teammates, it was the first time they’d ever been on an airplane!
The local papers had us picked to lose by some incredible margin 60-12 or something. At half time we were down by a lot and exhausted but we came back and engineered what I also believe is one of the greatest come from behind victories in Div. II history – again it was magical…and the last game I ever won!
Banks: And how did your team respond to you coming out? Was there any change in the way they interacted with you the rest of the season?
Sims: My team’s response to me coming out remains one of the most incredible experiences of my life. You get to know a group of guys so well when you’ve shared two-a-day practices, winning seasons, and summer camp…let alone all of the camaraderie that comes from living with teammates, going to parties together, trips to the mountains together, family events, etc. I don’t know that I ever worried that I’d be hated, but I certainly worried that upsetting the dynamic that we’d worked so hard to build would simply be too much strain on the relationships.
I also knew that a team wasn’t just a collection of friends and teammates I had, but (sort of like the mob) can have its own mentality, a team can respond to things in a very different way than the players on it may respond individually. I knew there would be detractors and I feared that in a group environment, the supporters could feel uncomfortable and they may stay silent as a result.
Needless to say I was very wrong. I had the benefit of being approached by my close friends and teammates first. These guys were serious ball-players, starters on our team, and I knew instantly that how they responded would dictate how the team responded.
It was pretty incredible. Without fail, each one of them found a private time to pull me aside and talk to me about things. They all apologized for things they may have said. Most of them tried to tell me about a gay family member or gay person they knew somewhere else in their lives. They were just trying to relate in any way they could. Some of them told me secrets about themselves or their families.
They all wanted to make sure that I hadn’t spent the last few years (let alone this incredible season) fearful every day that I would be outed and kicked off the team. I remember reaching a point one night where it felt like the 100th person had pulled me aside for one of these conversations and I almost wanted to say
“OK, I get it…you’re good with me being gay!” I obviously didn’t and I think I knew it was as important for me to hear it as it was for each of them to say it. I don’t know if they realized that they were all doing the same thing, but I think they each took pride in knowing that whatever else may or may not be happening, they had done their part to affirm our friendship.
Eventually it became obvious that the guys had talked about it in larger settings and I also began to realize that if there were naysayers or detractors, they had been silenced by my friends and supporters. The young guys and the non-starters looked to them to see how they would respond and learned quickly that it wasn’t going to be ok to handle things badly. To this day I still don’t know how it went over so well, but it truly did. The guys took so much pride in their support.
Banks: When do you think we’ll see an active (not retired) male athlete in one of the four major team sports (or two big revenue-producing college sports) come out? Any ideas on which city or league it could be?
Sims: I get asked this question a lot and I still don’t have a great answer. I think the personalities in basketball and football lend themselves to a strong, even arrogant gay player coming out in college and being too good not to draft. There are certainly cities where I think a gay athlete could thrive. Miami, LA, Philadelphia, NYC- I think these cities see active, athletic LGBT folks all the time and I think that a gay athlete in these markets would be a media star!