One of the less obvious ramifications of the revelations, though, was a trickle-down effect that Rogers’s and Collins’s decisions had on gay sports figures at the lower levels. In the latest example, Anthony Nicodemo, the boys’ basketball coach at Saunders High School in Yonkers, said Tuesday that Collins’s choice to come out as gay ultimately helped him decide to discuss his own sexuality with his players and their families in a meeting this week.
“What Jason Collins did was allow a conversation to be opened,” Nicodemo said in an interview. “That day, I went into study hall, and we had a 45-minute conversation about it. ‘How would you feel if one of your teammates came out?’ It was really important stuff, and I was blown away by how they reacted.”
He added: “It was on the tip of my tongue to tell them right then. I almost did. But it just didn’t feel right. I wanted to let them process.”
Instead, Nicodemo waited until Monday, and his decision was highlighted in a feature on Outsports, a Web site that covers the intersection of gays and sports. Cyd Zeigler, a founder of the site, wrote the article on Nicodemo and he said that Nicodemo’s experience was not unusual; one of the most important aspects of more pro athletes coming out, Zeigler said, is the effect it has on athletes and coaches who are far from the spotlight.
“Look, there are maybe 6,000 athletes playing in professional sports leagues,” Zeigler said. “There are 7.5 million athletes playing high school sports. What’s going on in high schools and elementary schools is far more important and impactful than the battle with homophobia in pro sports. Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers — this aspect of what they did is absolutely critical.”
Donna Nolan, whose elder son played for Nicodemo previously and whose younger son is currently on the team, said she had no inkling what Nicodemo was going to say when she walked into the meeting. She said reaction from parents at the meeting was overwhelmingly supportive — as was the response from school administrators — and added that there was an immediate discussion about how to handle the situation if an opposing player or parent makes insensitive comments to Nicodemo next season.
“You’re always going to have people out there who are bigots; it’s inevitable,” Nolan said. “We’re from Yonkers; whenever we go anywhere, people are already looking at us funny because we’re from Yonkers. So we know there will be comments. And we told the kids that as hard as it is going to be, we’re going to be the bigger people. It’s part of life.”
Nolan also said that although she understood parents who might prefer that adults in position of authority not speak to children about their sexuality at all — gay or straight — she did not believe Nicodemo had crossed any lines.
“I see that, but it’s not like he’s sitting with them and talking about what he does in his private life,” she said. “He’s not having a conversation with them about what he does on a Friday night. He’s just telling them, this is who I am. And for someone who preaches honesty, that’s important.”
Nicodemo, 35, said he was torn about coming out for years. He told members of his family at different points, but he did not tell his players or anyone else connected with basketball, which has always been his passion.
As a child, Nicodemo said, he was a typical athlete growing up in Brewster, N.Y. He loved sports and, even as he battled confusion and conflicting feelings about his sexuality, he did his best to try to be part of the gang.
“I was a part of the locker room stuff,” he said. “I definitely used words that I shouldn’t have, but when you’re growing up and you’re in denial, you’ll do anything to try and fit in. I just didn’t want to be seen as different.”