The Outsports.com post at 2:56 p.m. on June 10 began like this:
"Well, I found out today that my players know. So there's no reason to hide it."
At the bottom of the post, Missouri men's lacrosse coach Kyle Hawkins signed off with his name and occupation for the first time. For 21 months, he had been nothing more than "Frustrated_Coach" on the message board, discussing the trials and tribulations of being a closeted homosexual coaching a men's team sport at a major university. Since coming out, he's been featured in a New York Daily News story on homophobia in sports.
"It was a shock they found it newsworthy," Hawkins said.
It's too soon to evaluate what effect Hawkins' decision to come out will have on his coaching career—he's gotten some support as well as negative feedback. A few parents have pulled their kids without explanation from his summer lacrosse camp. But the hope is that it goes easier for him than the past few years when a brush with cancer caused him to reevaluate his life.
Hawkins was born in Rolla, Missouri, in the Ozarks, the son of Southern Baptists. As a boy, the family moved to St. Louis. He played hockey and football growing up and attended college at Arizona State where his roommate turned him onto lacrosse. He returned to St. Louis after graduating and took a job teaching high school. The school asked him to coach lacrosse and Hawkins refused, believing he didn't know enough about the sport. The school insisted and Hawkins agreed to take the job for a year. Four years later, he was successful enough that Missouri offered him its head coaching job. The sport was returning to the school on the club level after folding three previous times.
In the eight years since, Hawkins has led the Tigers to a 112-49 mark including 21-4 in 2004 when they captured the Great Rivers Lacrosse Conference Division A championship. However, after struggling in the postseason, the conference's coach of the year decided to raise the level of competition for Missouri.
"We always won 16, 17, 18 games a year," Hawkins said. "We weren't playing the best programs. That year, after we went to nationals, we got our heads handed to us. This year, we played six top 25 teams and the year before, our first 10 games, six were top 25 teams."
This past spring, the Tigers went 10-8 including 6-2 in the Big XII.
But the success on the field wasn't making Hawkins happy. He had known he was different for some time. But being raised in a strict religious household left him with no way to understand how.
"I didn't have a name for it," he said. "We weren't taught it was wrong. We weren't taught that it was around."
Hawkins tried praying and tried dating women. Nothing seemed to work. Then, in 2003, something slapped him in the face. He felt pain in his lower torso and, with the knowledge that all four of his grandparents had died of colon cancer, feared that he had the disease. The pain turned out to be a kidney stone. But on Hawkins' insistence, his doctor checked him out and sure enough, there were several small growths in his colon.
"If I had not had this pain, the cancer could have grown quickly and killed me," Hawkins said. "My brush with cancer was that this kidney stone saved my life."
The growths were removed and Hawkins was cancer free. However, the experience left him questioning his life.
"I looked back at my life and what I saw, I was not pleased with," he said. "I wasn't happy. I was pulling away from everybody because I was increasingly worried that they would pick me up on their gaydar. I was doing the hook up thing and putting myself at risk.
"I'm miserable so that everybody thinks I'm the good boy."
On September 28, 2004, Hawkins posted to Outsports.com for the first time. The long, anguished post explained his situation and asked for help in dealing with it.
A month later, Hawkins decided to come out to his family. The reaction was as bad as he feared—he told them on Halloween and he hasn't spoken to them since. He was removed from the family's trust fund the next day.
"The reaction to my family was so negative and so bitter, I was convinced my brother was going to call the school," Hawkins said. "As soon as I got back, I talked to my university and I talked to my coaches."
The university was supportive as were his assistant coaches. They decided that making a big deal of it would make it a bigger deal to the players so Hawkins decided not to call a team meeting to explain his situation.
"Treat it like its no big deal, and it won't be a big deal," he said. "At some point this year, some of the kids had heard around town."
Which led to the post on Outsports.com in June. There's a team listserv where some players have posted some negative comments. Others have been cool about it.
Hawkins said he's uneasy about how opponents may use the information against him both in recruiting athletes and during games. But the biggest fear is that somebody who has power over him—whether it's a boss or a high school coach or parent—would turn out to be a closeted bigot.
"This will be the worst year," he said. "These kids never had the opportunity to decide to play for a gay coach. In the future, they can play elsewhere."
Hawkins said 17 of his former players are now high school coaches and he has received letters of support from many of them. He said he wonders if it changes how they think of him.
"If I could tell them something, it would be you played for a gay coach, you just didn't know it," he said. "Nothing has changed."
Hopefully, the things that have changed have changed for the better.