Will Sheridan speaks at rival Saint Joseph's

PHILADELPHIA -- Personally and privately, the circle for Will Sheridan has long been closed. Comfortable with himself and his sexuality, the former Villanova player -- who in May told ESPN.com his story as a gay Division I athlete -- doesn’t need validation or closure.

But publicly the past week has been a critical and rewarding step in the ongoing journey of his life.

On Friday night, Sheridan performed at his alma mater, singing two songs -- one he wrote specifically for Villanova and another, "Here Comes the Sun," to be released later this year -- during Hoops Mania, the Wildcats’ annual season tipoff. It was, he said, an incredible blending of his past as a Nova basketball player, one who kept his sexuality private, and his present as a recording artist who believes he has a critical message to share.

And on Wednesday night, Sheridan spoke at Saint Joseph’s during the school’s Unity Week.

A Villanova basketball player speaking to a St. Joe’s gathering is borderline epic under any circumstances. This was made all the more poignant because it was the St. Joe’s fans who gave Sheridan the worst earfuls during his playing career, hurling insensitive and cruel remarks at the rival player they suspected was gay.

“To be honest I’ve been over all of it for so long,’’ Sheridan said after speaking to about 70 St. Joe’s students and administrators. “But I believe that part of my responsibility is to break down barriers. People who heard me speak may not know someone who is gay or think that they don’t like people who are gay. And if they saw me and it helped, then that’s huge to me.’’

As important as it was to Sheridan, it was equally critical for St. Joe's. During an hour-long talk, where he chronicled his life from a closeted teenager to a comfortably out adult, Sheridan shared some of his memories from the rivalry games with the Hawks. Students, he remembered, would chant Will & Grace, referencing the sitcom about a gay man and his female roommate. One group spewed a particularly lewd and obscene question toward him -- one so bad that Sheridan closed the door to the theatre where he was speaking before sharing it -- with his grandmother sitting 10 rows away.

“That’s a shame,’’ said Evelyn Minick, who serves as the chairperson for the Unity Week.

“No it’s not,’’ Sheridan countered. “If I hadn’t gone through that, maybe I don’t have the strength to do what I’m doing now.’’

It was because of Sheridan’s comments about St. Joseph’s in the original ESPN.com article that athletic director Don DiJulia suggested Sheridan for the talk.

“Respecting people is the name of the game, that’s what this whole week is about,’’ DiJulia said of the 14-year event that teaches acceptance is possible even within the confines of the Catholic Church. “And with the history here, all the more reason to have Will here to speak.’’

Though it may not thaw the Holy War -- when given a T-shirt depicting a ‘house divided,’ Sheridan pointed with favor toward the blue, Villanova house -- it was a small but impressive start in closing the circle for both Sheridan and St. Joe’s.