Book excerpt: 'The Reappearing Act'

Courtesy of Triple Crown Sports

After playing at the University of Colorado, espnW writer Kate Fagan spent two seasons with the Colorado Chill of the now-defunct National Women's Basketball League.

In her new book, "The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Led by Born-Again Christians," espnW's Kate Fagan recounts her own journey of trying to figure out her sexual identity while playing for the nationally ranked Colorado Buffaloes.

Below is an excerpt from the memoir, in which Fagan describes how she struggled with her motivation for the game as a sophomore, at one point trying to quit the team and walk away from her scholarship.

I DID NOT want to play basketball anymore -- could not stand another day of practice. And that's exactly what I was about to tell Ceal Barry, the head coach at Colorado, the woman who had believed in me enough to offer me a full scholarship. She was not the only coach to recruit me, but she was the only one whose program was consistently nationally ranked. When it came down to choosing which college to attend, I picked CU because I wanted to test myself at the highest level, playing for a coach who would win more than 500 games in her career. And here I was, crumbling beneath the weight of it all after only a few weeks of official basketball practice.

I was still wearing my practice gear: black mesh shorts and a reversible mesh jersey. I had grabbed my sweatshirt from the cubicle inside the weight room and pulled it over my head. Coach Barry was walking in front of me, leading the way out, then snaking through the training room and into the empty office of an assistant trainer, who wasn't at work because it was Saturday. She flipped on the lights and lowered herself into a chair. My teammates and I had just lifted weights inside the Dal Ward Athletic Center, which overlooked the football stadium and offered, especially at dusk, an inspiring view of the Flatirons, the Boulder foothills leading to the crescendo of the Rocky Mountains. I stumbled my way through the lifting session, choking back tears, feeling broken, barely able to keep the dumbbells from crashing down and splitting my head open.

I slipped into the office with Coach Barry, but stood just inside the doorway, with my back covering the light switch, as if I couldn't fully commit to being there. At that moment, I didn't feel capable of committing to much of anything. Coach didn't seem to have any inkling of what I might say, but she was definitely aware of how pathetic I had been at practice lately. I closed the door behind us. She looked at me, expectantly.

"I just . . ." I glanced at her, then down at the tops of my sneakers. I told myself to look up again, to be mature. I met her gaze. "I think I'm going to have to quit," I said. "That's all. That's what I needed to say."

She leaned forward, closing the distance between us, and let out a long breath. My commitment to quitting was strong, but not ironclad. Although I was a sophomore academically, I was in my freshman season with the basketball team because I had spent the previous year on the injured list, after being granted a medical redshirt. I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my right foot during the fall of 1999, before basketball practice even started, and I eventually had season-ending surgery that December, with the team doctor inserting a screw into the bone to keep it from fully breaking. As a result, I spent my first year at CU hanging out with my teammates and getting all the benefits of being a college athlete without having to do much of the serious training.

As I stood in front of Coach Barry that October day, I was healthy again, at least physically. I could run and jump and shoot; I just had zero motivation to do so. A week earlier, I had ingested an entire box of iron pills -- my roommate and teammate, Dee, was anemic -- in the hope that I would become violently ill and our trainer would be forced to excuse me from practice. I trudged down to the arena fully expecting to spend the afternoon hunched over the toilet. But, to my dismay, nothing happened. I felt fine. So I ended up having to practice, even less mentally prepared than usual.

"I think quitting is a mistake," Coach Barry said, lifting her head. She seemed about to say more, but paused, perhaps wanting to see how I would respond. I leaned into the wall and bounced my shoulders a few times, looking at the ceiling.

"My heart is just not in it," I said, and I could feel my eyes burning, the twisting of the faucet behind my tear ducts. "I'm scared to death of practice. It's the last place in the world I want to be. Nothing is going right."

This last part was true; I was playing terribly. Coming out of high school, I had thought I was so damn good. I was one of the better scholastic players in New York state, but now I couldn't even finish a drill without being told I had done it the wrong way and needed to do it over -- and why was I so pathetic? (The last question was my own addition, the kind of destructive self-talk I gave into as I walked to the end of the line during drills.)

Coach Barry stood and took a step toward me. She half sat, half leaned on the desk, clasping her hands on her lap. "This is what we'll do," she said. "You'll give me two more weeks, and I'll change how I coach you. I think that's the problem here. Just give me two weeks."

My lack of perspective was frightening in that moment. To me, two weeks felt like an outrageous sentence handed down by an angry judge. We practiced six days a week in the preseason, sometimes twice a day. Two weeks meant 12 to 14 practices, totaling about 40 hours of basketball. And do you know how many drills can be packed into that amount of time?

I had no idea how to respond, so I didn't.

"Here's the thing," Coach Barry continued. "I think I misjudged how you need to be coached."

A tear rolled down my cheek, and I quickly wiped it away with the back of my sweatshirt. Coach put a frown on her face. It was a pitying look that seemed to say, See? This is exactly what I mean. And she was right. She didn't really get me yet, but I couldn't fault her that much.

After all, I didn't get me, either.

Excerpted from "The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Led by Born-Again Christians" by Kate Fagan. Copyright © 2014 by Kate Fagan. Reprinted with the permission of Skyhorse Publishing. All rights reserved.

Related Content