NY High School Basketball Coach Comes Out to Players
A high school basketball coach from Yonkers, N.Y., made headlines this week after revealing to his players that he is gay, ABC News reports.
Anthony Nicodemo, 35, has been coaching boys' basketball for 16 years. He is currently coaching the Saunders High School team in Yonkers, N.Y. Though he faces typical challenges any high school basketball coach is up against, Nicodemo says that the biggest obstacle he had to overcome was coming out.
"I'm very upfront," he told ABC News. "So, for me, that was my demon. I'm supposed to be this guy [who is] always honest and yet I'm not 100 percent honest."
In June, Nicodemo told his team, "The one person you can't con is yourself. I said, 'Guys, the story is going to come out tomorrow about me being a gay high school basketball coach."
He said that his players' mouths dropped, but they responded well.
"One of the kids got up ... and kind of pointed at a couple of the kids and said, 'Guys, look what he's done for you," the coach told NPR. "This is nothing.' And within five minutes, the shock was over and they went back to practicing for the next big game."
"We just started talking and started applauding him," Joe Nolan, a player, recalled to ABC News. "He said, 'Does any player want to speak,' and I was the first one to jump up and start speaking for him."
Erwin Williams, another player, said that the sees Nicodemo as a "mentor, a father figure" and that all of the players "really look up to him."
"I think it is a learning experience and I think our students are more accepting. They understand," said Yonkers Public Schools' Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio.
Nicodemo says he knew his players come from an accepting generation but was still worried about the stigma in the sports world.
"You know, I think that there’s a lot of stereotypes, and I think I break the stereotypes," he told NPR. "I think an important part of coaching is trust. And I think right now, my kids trust me more than probably any kids trust their coach in this country right now."
The Journal News’ Lohud.com reports that the coach doesn’t think his announcement will make him a target or put a target on his team.
"I have to trust my kids (not to retaliate). Everything that’s going on is trust," he told the newspaper. He added that if things get "that volatile" he will take it up with administrators and other officials.
Rival coaches aren’t expected to be a problem either. Fred DiCarlo of Eastchester, N.Y., said that he will speak with his players about Nicodemo and his announcement.
"I talked to a couple of players already, and it’s no issue," DiCarlo said. "We’re in 2013. There’s so much acceptance of everybody’s lifestyle. I think a lot of people know gay people. Thirty or forty years ago, it would be a different story."
Sean Stahn, the coach of Palisade Prep school who is also friends with Nicodemo, said he would give his team "just a little reminder" before they play against Saunders High School.
"They’re not professionals or college players, but there are expectations for our players," Stahn said. "They are representing me, the school and the principal." Stahn added he is unsure how fans would react, saying, there are "immature adults and kids out there" but hopes "people handle themselves in the proper way."
While many believe the basketball teams with Nicodemo will be civil, Yonkers resident Alan O’Brien told Lohud.com that there is a lot of trash talk in basketball’s "culture."
"In the arena, it’s almost like a gladiator mentality. They’ve got their game face on. I don’t think the motivation would be hate or anger," he said. "Short, fat, bald ... they’d trash-talk Michael Jordan if he were out there coaching. There are going to be words. People will use words they’re used to using on the court. They want to get an advantage. I’d like to hope it’s not coming from a negative perspective, just trying to win."
The head of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s sports team, Aaron McQuade, said an announcement made before games that explains derogatory language would not be permitted and that rhetoric regarding "race, religion, sexual identification, gender identification, politics and gender" will not be tolerated, would be helpful.
"This sort of ties in with the conversation we’re having about bullying as a country," McQuade told Lohud.com. "When does it stop being ’kids being kids’ and start being damaging?"
Helen Carroll, sports project director for the Center for Lesbian Rights, said using anti-gay language "is one of the historically allowable taunts in athletics." She added that only in that past few years have athletes been criticized and reprimanded for that kind of language.
Carroll says that athletic directors should not focus on Nicodemo’s orientation, but make a clear announcement at the start of the school year that anti-LGBT slurs will not be tolerated.
It’s no secret anti-gay language appears to be commonly used in sports. Earlier this year, Rutgers University fired basketball coach Mike Rice the day after ESPN aired practice videos showing the coach verbally and physically abusing players. A former player told school officials that Rice used anti-gay slurs.
Additionally, in November 2012, Minnesota Golden Gophers’ center A.J. Barker said he quit the team after his lead coach Jerry Kill subjected Barker to years of mental abuse, often calling him a "faggot."