Alan Gendreau was all over the news last week, not so much because of his football skills, but mostly because he’s gay, and that he’s holding on to a dream. It’s only that latter point that should really matter, but all the hullabaloo around Gendreau’s story and his sexual orientation the last few days is a reminder that many of us are just not quite there yet.
Raised in Florida, the 23-year-old Gendreau had his shot at the NFL draft a year ago, and for a variety of reasons he didn’t get selected. He’s a kicker, a pretty good one, but kickers generally aren’t a hot commodity in the draft. For example, the annual NFL jamboree conducted this weekend counted only two kickers among its 254 picks. As essential as they may be to a team’s fortunes (see: Adam Vinatieri, Snow Bowl), kickers remain somewhat of an afterthought, a curiosity if not an oddity, when the NFL’s 32 teams fill their cart with the annual college crop of groceries.
Gendreau is different, in part because he’s an openly gay athlete who wants to be in the NFL, but also because he didn’t do his kicking at a huge college football factory. A football and soccer standout at Orangewood Christian High School, just north of Orlando, he attended Middle Tennessee State on a scholarship and went on to set the Sun Belt Conference record for points (295) over four seasons with the Blue Raiders before graduating last spring.
For all that success, however, Gendreau didn’t find a taker in the 2012 NFL draft. There was that mediocre senior season (8 for 14 on field goal attempts) he posted in 2011. There was the fact that he didn’t have an agent. And then, of course, he didn’t have USC or Georgia Tech or Alabama or some other Big Time Football U proof of pedigree on his résumé. He only had that boatload of points and an equal amount of faith that his record would speak for itself, get his kicking foot in the door.
In retrospect, as he said in a story published last week by Outsports, that approach was “half-assed.’’
So now Gendreau, out and proud about his sexual orientation since age 15, is all in on the football thing. The Outsports story, written by Cyd Zeigler, drew massive attention from the national mainstream media last week. The New York Times and ABC News were quick to chronicle it. Interest grew so rapidly, so abundantly, that his Los Angeles-based publicist, Howard Bragman, by Thursday was dismissing out of hand further media requests to interview Gendreau.
“I could have him out there 40 hours a day right now, doing TV, radio, and print,’’ Bragman said by telephone on Thursday. “But the object for this kid is not to be an activist. Yeah, he’s gay, and that’s all good. But the story, what he wants to do, is for him to make it to the NFL.’’
For the moment, there is no making Gendreau’s sexual orientation beside the point. It’s the core of his story, which of course is why it’s here on Page 2 of your Sunday Globe sports section. If he were just a heterosexual kid with a lingering, unfulfilled dream, a year out of college and working a residential real estate job in D.C., a Bible on his bedstand, he wouldn’t be even an agate line next to the Middlesex League baseball results on the Scoreboard page.
Even then, the story isn’t so much what Gendreau is, but rather what North America’s pro sports industry is not.
At this hour, not a single gay athlete in the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NHL, or the NBA has come out while under contract with a team in any of those leagues. Ex-players have come out, as long ago as former NFL running back Dave Kopay in 1975. But the professional sports workplace, in some cases, is still batting 0-for-over-a-century when it comes to creating a culture, an environment, a workplace that would offer a gay athlete the freedom to let his teammates, coaches, and employer know he is homosexual.
Gendreau’s attempt to win a job, or at least be offered a tryout, comes at a time when great strides on the subject are being made by the You Can Play Project. Founded in the memory of Brendan Burke, the Xaverian Brothers (Westwood) High School grad who was killed in a car accident on the eve of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, YCPP in recent months has done a magnificent job of shaping the discussion and promoting the cause of LGBT athletes. Only this month, the NHL and its players’ union forged a formal partnership with YCPP. Other leagues could do the same very soon.
You Can Play’s overarching message: Everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation, deserves a fair shot. Not very confusing, is it? Frankly, it’s astounding that it’s 2013 and something so obvious still has to be stated, protected, championed.
Meanwhile, Gendreau is busy in D.C., balancing his real estate job, searching for an agent, figuring out how to stretch his paycheck to cover costs of a kicking coach, nutritionist, and trainer. NFL training camps open in July, and all he’s looking for is a shot, someone to hold the ball while he fixes foot and eye on a target that he hopes has not faded from view.