“I can’t believe I fumbled”, thought Frank, as the ball dropped from his hands. A couple of teenagers standing on the sidelines watching the practice chuckled at him. Frank wasn’t happy. He tossed the ball back to the Quarterback and team captain, Josh. “Hey, it’s no problem Frank” said Josh. “Just keep your mind in the game. Once you start caring about what those bozos on the sidelines think, you won’t have any mind left to make the catch.”
Josh was the school’s biggest culprit of spewing advice. Some of the less than average athletes thought he did this to put them down, and some of the better athletes appreciated it because they thought it was helpful. The cute girls thought it made him more caring, but Frank never thought much about Josh’s advice. He just didn’t like being singled out, which Josh did often.
Frank lined up at the line. Coach Zimmerman, a short old man with poor hearing who used to be something in the football world, yelled, “switch the sides. Offense and defense switch! Blue Seventy Seven Blue!” Why did he scream those names and numbers? The team practiced the same play every time. A lot of guys in school thought he did it to intimidate the players – at least that’s what Josh thought. Frank focused on his position. He was an outside linebacker and because of his height and sharp physique he was able to play really well. There was the call from Josh, then the snap and action. One receiver came into his zone and Frank watched him closely, not giving him any leeway. The team practiced the play several more times before Coach Zimmerman blew his whistle. “All right”, he bellowed. “Showers!”
The team hustled obediently into the locker rooms. Even when the temperature was 40 or 50 degrees outside, underneath all that equipment it was as hot as a Russian banya and relief of such discomfort was the first thing on everyone’s mind after a practice. Frank swallowed the lump in his throat. Maybe he would just run some laps before going to showers. That’ll give the guys enough time to finish up. Thank goodness the crowd on the sidelines was leaving. Frank began jogging around the track.
He began at a slow pace. After all, he was sore from the game. But after two laps Coach Zimmerman shouted, “Franky! Get in that locker room! Save your pep for Saturday’s game!” Defeated, Frank headed towards the locker room. There was no arguing with coach. Frank opened his locker and put his helmet inside it. The room smelled of sour sweat, but Frank didn’t mind. It was a comfortable smell, as long as it wasn’t too strong.
As Frank began peeling off his equipment he overheard two of his teammates talking.
They were laughing. “Good. He shouldn’t.”
“Yeah. My dad complained to the school board. They want him off the team.”
“Your dad has the power to do that?”
“Definitely, he sponsors a lot of our equipment.”
All of the sudden, the conversation hushed. Frank knew they were talking about him and probably noticed him. Frank’s mood took a turn for the dark. It was one thing to constantly be harassed for his sexuality, but to be taken off the team?! That was unfair! When Frank came out of the closet it shocked the entire school. People in his school thought antisocial kids, or strange kids were gay. No one thought a jock, a tough linebacker like him, could be a homosexual. The jocks rejected Frank because it created rumors about what went on in the team’s locker room. People who Frank called his friends looked at him differently. That is why Frank avoided the team during shower time. That is why Frank got harassed every time he tackled someone down.
Frank waited for the two gossipers to leave and then undressed. He stepped into the shower. He thought of quitting the team. Maybe then he wouldn’t have to deal with the embarrassment of being kicked off the football team for being a homosexual.
As Frank came out of the shower he noticed Josh standing several lockers over. “Why are you still here?” Frank asked coldly.
“I need to tell you some bad news” said Josh.
“The coach came over to me yesterday. The school’s board wants you off the team.”
“So why don’t they just do it” said Frank, as a lump the size of Minnesota welled in his throat.
“Because they’re afraid it would create a scandal in the paper.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Frank coughed, his eyes brimming with tears.
“Frank, they told me if you stay, the team’s sponsor will stop funding our gear. That’s thousands of dollars.”
Tears rolled down Frank’s face. “Josh, you can’t tell me to quit football to satisfy some rich control freak. How can you just march in here and tell me to quit football so the rest of the team can play?! I’m better than half the team”.
“Well Frank, you shouldn’t get so worked up. That’s not what I came here to tell you.”
Frank wiped his tearstained face with his hand, wondering what else Josh could possibly want to tell him.
“I spoke to Tommy, Louis, Greg… the whole team. We’re all quitting. We don’t want to be pushed around. The coach doesn’t know this yet, but Sunday’s game – it’s not happening. No one is showing up.”
Frank couldn’t believe his ears. His teammates – the ones who ignored him and wished he wasn’t in their world – were making this huge sacrifice for him! Josh just stood there beaming.
“Frank can you keep a secret?” Josh asked.
“Sure.” There was more?
“You know my girlfriend, Sue Ellen?”
Everyone knew Sue Ellen. She was president of the drama club. Aside from being Josh’s girlfriend, she was very popular and she was a model for local clothing stores.
“She told me her Mom just got engaged. To a woman.”