- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel isn't the type to constantly seek out video cameras and tape recorders, even in a media environment where the loudest college football coaches (cough, Lane Kiffin, cough) often get the most attention, regardless of their win-loss total. He gets bombarded with requests from media outlets and interest groups, and responds to those that he can.
It was interesting to see the interview Tressel recently gave to Outlook Columbus, which bills itself as "a lifestyle and advocacy publication" that serves Ohio's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community (GLBT). Outlook Columbus's March 2010 issue is entitled "Queers & Sports," and features interviews with both Tressel and Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith, among others.
Here's the issue: Tressel's interview can be found on Page 32, while Smith's appears on Page 22.
According to OutSports.com, a national publication that serves the gay sports community, Tressel is believed to be the first major FBS head coach to conduct an interview with a GLBT publication about gay issues. Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh spoke to the gay-activist organization GLAAD in December after being accused of yelling an anti-gay slur during a game.
Among the questions Tressel addresses in the Outlook Columbus interview: If an Ohio State football player came out as gay, what advice would Tressel provide and would the team, fans and university be supportive?
“We strive to teach and model appreciation for everyone. One, we are a family. If you haven’t learned from your family at home that people have differences and those strengthen the whole, then you are hopefully going to learn it as part of the Ohio State football family.
"Two, every part of our team is important and every role has value -- no job is too small and no person is irrelevant -- that’s a great lesson that transcends into society. When I think of the diversity we’ve had on our team the past few years, it goes way beyond just a racial, sexual or ethnic mix. We've had players who had different religions, players who came from different economic backgrounds, players who are parents, who are spouses, who are caring for ailing parents, who are wheelchair bound, who are battling cancer, and on and on. Whatever a young man feels called to express, I hope we will help him do it in a supportive environment. Everybody is important, and maturity is learning to find and appreciate those differences in others."
Tressel also addressed why so few gay college athletes declare their sexual orientation openly.
"What we have, quite often, with our athletes, and with a number of young people in any sport, is that from the time they were 6 or 7 years old, their identity has been through sports. You’re the tallest, you’re the fastest, you’re the best player. All their feedback has come in terms of their role as a player, and they are often hesitant to go beyond that narrow role. ... The greatest achievement we can have as coaches is that a young man leaves us with a concept of who he is, what he wants from life, and what he can share with others -- someone who is 'comfortable in his own skin,' and that identity can go in a number of directions."
Michael Daniels, the co-owner and co-publisher of Outlook Columbus, conducted the interview with Tressel through e-mail while the coach was recruiting. Outlook Columbus has a strong relationship with Ohio State and its GLBT alumni group, Scarlet and Gay, and it recently had Smith speak at a networking function.
As part of the sports issue, Daniels reached out to several figures in the Columbus sports community and was put in touch with Tressel through Smith's office.
"I'm really proud of him of being the first Division I coach to do a one-on-one with the gay press and actually address those questions without really flinching too much," Daniels told me. "People look at him and they say, 'He is a little buttoned-up.' If you read his book, 'The Winners Manual,' he's obviously a very spiritual man. People think he's somewhat conservative. But I think that him doing this interview and the answers to these questions showed how much of a class act the guy really is."
Kudos to Tressel for doing this and addressing a subject that is still very taboo in college football. Most fans want their coaches to focus strictly on X's and O's, but Tressel's influence in Ohio stretches far beyond the gridiron. His voice matters, and his message of acceptance comes through here.
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