In high school, he was a four-year volleyball starter, two-time team captain, twice named all-state and valedictorian. His biggest secret though, was that he was gay.
The biggest transitional moment for Nathan Matthews, ’19, was finding other athletes that were openly gay, not just everyday people who were.
Along with over 100 students across Wittenberg curriculum, Matthews presented his research findings last Friday at the sixth annual Celebration of Learning.
“Those really should have been the glory days, the happiest days of my life,” Matthews said during his TED Talk on Friday, April 6, as part of the Celebration of Learning. “The reality for me though, at the time, was very different from that.”
His experiences led him to work with the You Can Play project, a non-profit working toward the inclusion of the LGBT community in sport at all levels.
Matthews’ story began when he fell into the shadows while growing up in Gahanna, Ohio, not showing his true self to his high school teammates, coaches or his family.
“I’d go home and when I was finally just with myself, alone in my bedroom, I would end up crying myself to sleep,” Matthews said.
Despite the trend continuing after he came to play at Wittenberg, Matthews openly came out in the spring of his freshman year. The six-foot starter credits current collegiate and former professional athletes for helping him overcome his fears.
“[My transformational] experience was finding OutSports.com,” Matthews said. “Of all things, it was finding a website.”
After reading story after story on a website dedicated to the success of athletes in the LGBT community, he finally felt that he wasn’t alone. Matthews felt the need to give and wrote an article himself that was posted online in the spring of 2016.
One year later, Matthews left his playing career behind him. He took on coaching not one, but two high school volleyball teams. He returned to the court wearing the red and white for the 2018 season.
“Over the past six years [volleyball] has given more to me than I can put into words,” Matthews wrote on Facebook in 2017 after accepting the coaching position at Miamisburg. “It has brought me some of my closest friends, most influential mentors, and fondest memories. It brought me to a university that I love and that has shaped me considerably in such a short period of time.”
He struggled to come out himself because of how culture conditioned him to think that being gay was not good. According to Matthews, there is an inherent link between homophobia and sport and it is rooted in the language used by people across the country.
“When you look at these peaks that shoot up, just about every peak is a sporting event,” Matthews said, referencing NoHomoPhobes.org, which records the uses of words and phrases such as “no homo,” “gay” and “faggot” in tweets daily.
Matthews saw this firsthand on the job while coaching boys’ volleyball at Miamisburg, hearing remarks that high school boys make during practice.
While there are a handful of lesbian players in professional sports, there are no active openly gay professional male athletes. Some credit this to negative public reaction or that it distracts from the rest of the team.
On the other hand, one member of the Seton Hall basketball team coming out a couple years ago led to a stronger, tight-knit and more successful team.
Matthews believes the best way to end homophobia in sport is to train coaches on how to recognize homophobia and how to help support youth who need supported.