'Now I get to be like everybody else'

HANOVER, N.H. – Margarita Monday at Molly's on Main Street.

Those sweet, lime-colored, tequila-drenched drinks are the overwhelming hydration choice of this modest gathering of Dartmouth College lacrosse players.

It's all legal. The waitress duly carded all four team members, as well as their eight companions, on this evening in late April. There's a predictable run on buffalo chicken, rib-eye steaks and Caesar salads, loud talk and that typically bawdy collegiate humor.

Andrew Goldstein, leaning back in a commanding corner seat, surveys the scene and smiles. Even though he has a test tomorrow on the daunting structure of cells, he is happy to be here, hanging with his teammates. The All-American goalie, the guy everyone calls "Goldie," fits right in.

The fact that he's publicly gay – an unprecedented turn of events in its own way – doesn't seem to matter. Goldstein, who graduates in two weeks, routinely faced blurring, hard rubber balls that approached 100 miles an hour during his distinguished four-year collegiate career. And yet, his courage cannot be measured by the 110 saves he recorded this season.

There are a handful of gay professional athletes – David Kopay, Billy Bean, Esera Tuaolo – who came out after their careers ended. There are a number of talented gay collegiate athletes, some who play individual sports at the Division I level (such as California gymnast Graham Ackerman), others from team sports at the Division II and III levels.

But Andrew Goldstein, according to those who document these things, is the most accomplished male, team-sport athlete in North America to be openly gay during his playing career. He revealed his sexuality to his team after the 2003 season, and an online essay that appeared on Outsport.com elevated his story to national prominence.

Yet as Goldstein points out, "gay All-American" is a phrase that is still contradictory for some.

"All-American is what you think of, you know, the three kids, the white picket fence, All-American," Goldstein said. "And gay does not fit into that. So it's nice for me to hear 'gay All-American,' and to think it's just the same as 'All-American.' "

After contemplating his sexuality for nearly half his life, Goldstein struggled with whether to tell the world who he really was. The decision didn't come easily, Goldstein said, but he ultimately felt there was no choice.

"It's like you get to the hill and the roller coaster just goes drop," Goldstein said. "Like once I got it past a point, you just have to keep going until you get to the next stopping point. And for me, a lot of those decisions were just easy decisions. I knew what I had to do."

A deep, dark secret

As a teenager growing up in Milton, Mass., sometimes Andrew Goldstein's sexuality was the only thing ricocheting around in his head.

"You're trying to fall asleep and you start thinking, 'I'm not like everyone else,' " Goldstein said. "You think, 'We'll, I'm 16 years old and I can't even pull off having a girlfriend.'

"It's almost inconceivable that that would be your life. I always imagined that lies and hiding would be a large part of getting through the day."

The burden of being a closeted homosexual was suffocating. There were times when his searing secret left him with thoughts of suicide.

"Yeah, there definitely were," Goldstein said. "It's pretty awful to think about. There were so many nights when, yeah, I would lie awake thinking, like 'God, I can't live that life. I could hide, I could do this, or I could just end it and no one would ever know.'

"When I had time to reflect, I'd just think, 'I've got to get out of this situation, somehow.' "

After three years at Milton Academy and another at Deerfield Academy, both upper-crust private schools in Massachusetts, Goldstein enrolled at Dartmouth College in 2001. He played in five games as a freshman and figured to be the starter as a sophomore. By then, the matter of his sexuality had become a pressing issue in his mind. He had pretended to be straight and, for the sake of form, even dated a girl. But by the beginning of his sophomore year, Goldstein could no longer keep the secret. He told a friend, Christina.

"I leaned over and I whispered in her ear, 'I'm gay,'" Goldstein said. "And for anyone who's coming out, that is the hardest thing to do – to hear the words 'I'm gay' come out of your mouth. I felt sorry for her because I sort of gave her half the weight, but it was so much off my shoulders. It was the most incredible feeling.

"I still didn't know I was going to come out. I definitely didn't know that I was going to come out to the team."

But during his sophomore season, the dynamic changed. Andrew fell in love and wanted to tell his friends – including the lacrosse teammates he spent so much time with. But, for a time, fear paralyzed him.

Dartmouth's lacrosse team, led by its second-year goalie, had come together in astonishing fashion. The Big Green were the surprise Ivy League champions and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.

"During the season," Goldstein said, "I thought it would have had a negative effect. You'd like to think that everyone around you has similar beliefs as you, but you never know who would be offended by even the thought of someone being gay in their locker room. Especially, you hear these horror stories growing up.

"This is the reason it's so hard to come out. It's not supposed to be easy."

Routinely extraordinary

He is generously listed at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds in his Dartmouth lacrosse bio, but those numbers fail to capture Goldstein's sometimes breathtaking athletic ability.

His midfielders will tell you that he might have been the fastest player on the team this past season, which is saying something. His reflexes, particularly when tested on one-on-one situations in front of the cage, sometimes border on the ridiculous.

In an April game at Yale, Bulldogs senior attackman Seth Goldberg broke in on Goldstein in a play solely designed for Dartmouth. Goldberg threw one, two, three fakes at Goldstein, who mirrored each with his goalie stick.

"Most goalies, it's just a lay-in," Goldberg said later. "But Andrew stayed with it and stuffed me right on the doorstep. He made an unbelievable save."

Goldberg, who had scored six goals against Goldstein in the previous year's game, fell to the ground in disbelief.

During his brief Dartmouth career, Goldstein routinely authored extraordinary achievements. During the 2003 regular season, he stopped 17 shots in a 13-6 upset at Princeton, prompting legendary Tigers coach Bill Tierney to say it was one of the best performances he had ever witnessed by an opposing goalie. Those comments were one of the reasons Goldstein was named an All-American at the end of the season.

On May 11, 2003, in the crucible of the NCAA Tournament, down a goal at Syracuse, Goldstein did something that surpassed even his consistently high level of achievement.

"I made the save and I saw a big opening on my left side, so I just took it and ran," Goldstein remembered. "I have two guys on me: One guy was an attackman, so he couldn't cross the midline, so I got past him. Another guy was a middie, and he was right on me the entire time.

"They [the defense] didn't slide, and then I got to about 8 yards, and just wound up, shot low, and there it was. I grew up a Boston Bruins fan, so I did the little Ray Bourque, one knee with a fist pump. And everyone just kept mauling me, and all I kept thinking was, 'Geez, I've got to go a hundred yards back to the net. Get off me. What are you doing?' "

The goalie had done the unimaginable – he scored a goal. It hadn't happened in the NCAA Tournament in nearly three decades. As Goldstein wrote later in an essay that first appeared on Discourse.net, "I thought to myself, 'I guess it takes a gay goalie to have enough balls to score in the NCAA Tournament.' "

See it for yourself: Click here.

"That was like the culmination of all the hard work that he put in," senior defender Matt Nicholson said. "It was just shining right there on the national spotlight. With Andrew, you just don't know. I mean, he defies everything.

"You can just tell he's something special, and that goal is indicative of that and, you know, the things that he's done now and coming out."

Make no mistake: The two – scoring that goal against Syracuse and announcing his sexuality publicly – are inexorably intertwined.

"Being a gay athlete, I know what it's like taking the ball over the midline, you risk the chance of getting checked and going back and them scoring on you," Goldstein said. "But if you don't take that big risk, you don't get the big goal."

"You can take that metaphor a long way," said Adam White, another Dartmouth senior defender. "There has to be some amount of insanity or toughness to get in goal and let people rip 100-mile-an-hour shots at you. So it's not surprising that he could take a leap like this."

Said Nicholson: "Looking back, I feel like there were times where he probably felt like he had something caged up inside of him that he just didn't want to let out. It's funny, when he scored that goal against Syracuse, that cat came out of the bag."

Developing a support system

It was the first session of weight lifting during the summer term of Goldstein's sophomore year when he officially came out to his team. He pulled aside Nicholson and told him he had a boyfriend, Ethan.

Nicholson, who had known Ethan previously, admittedly was surprised by the revelation, but he still managed a pretty decent comeback.

"Wow, man," he said, "he's hot."

Later, in an emotional e-mail, Nicholson told Goldstein it didn't change anything.

"I'm here for you," he wrote. "I'm your teammate. I'm your defenseman, and you're my goalie."

Goldstein was touched.

"He wasn't literally patting me on the back, but I felt like there was, there was a hand on my back, pushing me forward and supporting me," Goldstein said. "There's really no feeling like that."

Goldstein asked Nicholson to pass the word to the rest of the team. If anybody had any questions or concerns, Goldstein said, have the player come talk to him. During the first few weeks, there were some uncomfortable moments.

"Here was one of our teammates, and he's been in the showers and locker room with us the whole time and we had no idea," said Brad Heritage, a junior midfielder. "And not that it makes a difference, but it was just kind of a new experience, like something none of us had ever faced before in any of the team sports we'd ever been a part of."

"I don't want to say we treated it as, almost like a disease at first, but it was just something we were unsure about," Nicholson said. "We didn't know how to approach it, and there was that awkward stage.

"I think Andrew felt that, as well. He wouldn't shower with us after practice. Initially, he wouldn't shower with us after games."

When the news had settled on the team, a number of Goldstein's teammates apologized. It occurred to them that, in the macho, testosterone-charged atmosphere of the lacrosse locker room, they had probably offended their teammate countless times over the seasons.

"You know, the inappropriate jokes. Just any homophobic reference," Nicholson said. "I know a lot of guys felt terrible. That's the first thing they all thought, too, was 'I hope, man, I hope I didn't piss him off. I hope I didn't make him upset for dumb things I might have said along the way that I really didn't mean.' "

Said Goldstein: "These kids aren't trying to be hurtful. Every male growing up in America right now uses the term 'gay' to mean stupid or lame. I mean, it's pretty tough to change that – that's the culture."

And yet Goldstein did change the culture around him – and not in the disastrous way he had envisioned. His fears, it turned out, were unfounded.

In the essay he wrote for the Discourse Web site, Goldstein had worried that on the team's first road trip, the "unlucky guys who had to be my roommates would complain about sleeping in the same room as the homo." He worried that no one would sit next to him on the team bus or that teammates would walk out on him in the showers.

"This is what you're supposed to be worried about," Goldstein said. "This is the reason that there are no gay athlete role models. Because you're told your whole life, no one will be accepting."

And so, what happened?

"Nothing," Goldstein said.

Well, almost nothing. There was the time when the Dartmouth fans were riding an opposing player, openly questioning his sexual orientation.

"You ought to talk to your goalie about that," the player responded.

Sometimes there were comments muttered as players ran on and off the field, but nothing substantive, according to Goldstein and his teammates. In fact, Ivy League opponents seemed supportive of Goldstein's decision to come out.

"It says a lot about Andrew and his courage," said Tierney, a six-time NCAA champion as Princeton's coach. "I think it shows up in his game. Men's lacrosse is equated to hockey, football – tough-guy sports – a lot of hitting and all that. But Andrew is [as] tough and physical as anybody I have seen out there, especially in the goalie spot."

Yale's Chris Kempner, a sophomore attackman, was unaware of Goldstein's sexual orientation when they played together at Deerfield Academy.

"I would imagine it's much harder to come out in a team sport, whereas in an individual sport you're only accountable to yourself," Kempner said. "In a team sport, half of what goes on out there is based on relationships between teammates. If you change that dynamic, some guys might be uncomfortable. That must be 10 times as hard as someone heckling from the sideline."

Fracturing the stereotype

Sean Anthony, a Dartmouth junior midfielder, is a psychology major. Last year, he took a summer class on stereotypes.

"It's an extremely prominent thing, that we all have problems with stereotypes," Anthony said. "And in this sense, it's good, you know, we got one of our stereotypes changed because of exposure."

Goldstein's conviction can be found in his online lacrosse bio: co-chairman of Dartmouth's Gay Straight Alliance.

"I'm a liberal person, and I try not to assume things about people," said Sean Garren, a fellow fraternity brother of Goldstein's in Sigma Phi Epsilon and also a member of the Gay Straight Alliance. "But the lacrosse team was not where I imagined there being an All-American gay person. I think that there are so many stereotypes that a lot of gay people all over the country kind of live up to. A lot of stereotypes that have just been built up over time, and Andrew breaks a lot of those."

When the Gay Straight Alliance recently sponsored a Day of Silence to protest the muting of the gay, lesbian and bisexual community, several lacrosse players participated. They bought T-shirts bearing slogans and wore symbolic black tape over their mouths.

"We had guys on our team who I would have never imagined sticking up for gay rights," White said, "wearing T-shirts, saying 'I'm going around campus trying to promote communication between gay and straight communities.' "

In retrospect, Goldstein argues that being part of a team made it easier for him to come out.

"If you think about it, I couldn't have come out in an individual sport," Goldstein said. "I mean, maybe, but on a team sport, that made all the difference. I mean, I felt supported by 35 guys who were walking around campus, no one's going to mess with these guys. If they support me, who isn't going to?"

Goldstein's coming out has had an impact on past and present athletes on the pastoral New England campus. Toby Hays, Dartmouth Class of 1999, was a two-time Ivy League champion in diving. He was gay, but he never seriously considered coming out during his career.

"I was so afraid of my teammates' reactions. I was so afraid that it would impact my diving, my career," Hays said. "I thought my mental health was actually better just being in the closet. There's a little sort of twinge of jealousy that's like, 'I wish I had the guts to do that when I was in college.' But I'm just thankful that he's done it."

According to Hays, after Goldstein came out, several campus athletes followed his example.

"I think the important thing to realize is that the gay community really is a cross section of America," Hays said. "I think in the media, it's often portrayed as 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,' or it's a fashion industry or whatever. So I think it's a wonderful way to expose people to the fact that there are gay people in every corner of every part of America.

"It's absolutely crucial to expose people to the fact that ... there are gay people in lacrosse, there are gay people in football and basketball and baseball and hockey. You can change an atmosphere like that. I've seen it. It really just takes one person."

He is who he is

Coming out, Goldstein said, freed him to be a better lacrosse goalie.

"Everyone starts playing sports when they're 3, 4, 5 years old and you're running around in a field and it's very pure and innocent and there's nothing going on in your head," Goldstein said a few weeks before the season ended. "You're just out there playing. That is my ideal.

"Now, I'm back and 5 years old and running around with a big smile on my face. That's what sports are all about. There were a lot of years when that wasn't the thing on my mind. There were so many things. But now when I get out there, I feel like there's not a care in the world."

Goldstein's primary reason for coming out so publicly was to inspire others to follow his course.

"Hopefully, because of me, the next one can come out and it's even less of a big deal," he said. "I would hope the next step is kids in high school don't have to feel bad about themselves. They don't have to worry. They can feel happy about who they are."

Goldstein's favorite quotation is from Theodore Geisel, the whimsical Dr. Seuss and a former member of his fraternity at Dartmouth: "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."

"It's important to be true to yourself, to just be yourself," Goldstein said. "I knew going into it, if someone disagreed with me, I was just going to say, 'OK. I respect your opinion, but, like, I don't really care. I'm gay. This is me. I'm going to be myself. I'm not going to hide because you [don't] like it.' "

During his senior season, Goldstein found a new comfort level with his teammates. While they were calling their girlfriends after the big victory over Maryland, Goldstein was on his cell phone, calling his new boyfriend, Brian, an athlete on one of the school's many club teams.

"I never wanted to stand out," Goldstein said. "I just wanted to be like everybody else. And there it is. Now I get to be like everybody else."

It's typical practice among Dartmouth's lacrosse players to send out a global e-mail if, for instance, Anna Kournikova suddenly appears on TV, so everyone can change his station. In perhaps the ultimate sign of inclusion this year, a team captain e-mailed: "Hey, Goldie, Andy Roddick is playing on ESPN2."

"That's not only funny, but that's a pretty amazing thing for a captain of a Division I sport team to do."

At 22, Goldstein still has more barriers to break down. Next year, he'll put a double major of biochemistry and molecular biology to work in cancer research at Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

"I really think of that scene in 'Gladiator' where Russell Crowe is standing out there in the middle of the arena and they're all yelling his name," Nicholson said. "Andrew's done something that no one else has done. And I think he's done it so well that it's really, really impressive.

"You know his All-American nod? He's just gone out there and done the same as the guy right next to him. The only difference is that he's gay."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at greg.garber@espn3.com.