Andrew Goldstein and Braeden Lange's unlikely friendship

A DOZEN YEARS AGO, at the age of 20, Andrew Goldstein came out to his Dartmouth College lacrosse teammates. The All-American goalie had struggled with his sexuality since he was 7, and like so many gay and transgender kids, had contemplated suicide.

"I would lie awake thinking, like, 'God, I can't live that life,'" Goldstein says. "'I could hide, I could do this, or I could just end it and no one would ever know.'"

Earlier this year, another young lacrosse player realized that he was gay. Braeden Lange, a 12-year-old from outside Philadelphia, was in a group chat with about 15 people back in February when a friend started making jokes.

"There's nothing wrong with being gay," Braeden responded, "because I am gay."

Later, he explained, "I couldn't hide from the fake me anymore."

Things eventually got so bad that Braeden, too, began talking openly about suicide.

Goldstein's many and varied accomplishments -- on the athletic field, as an eye-opening trailblazer and in the laboratory as Dr. Goldstein -- are extraordinary by any calculus. But his greatest triumph may well have been reaching out, comforting and ultimately saving a desperate 12-year-old boy whom he recognized in himself.

"This is the greatest gift," Goldstein says. "I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world, because I get to have that conversation with the 12-year-old version of myself. I get to see the impact that my story had on someone."

The Lange family has come to a consensus.

"If Andrew hadn't come," Braeden says, "then I probably wouldn't have made it."

Says his father, Scott, "Unequivocally, yes. Andrew saved Braeden's life."

The Goal

The story begins, as it should, on the field:

Even given the perpetual motion of YouTube, Andrew Goldstein's legs seem to be moving too quickly.

Playing in the cruelest of crucibles, the Syracuse Carrier Dome, before 25,000 fans, Dartmouth College's sophomore lacrosse goalie somehow has plucked Michael Springer's point-blank shot out of the air and starts sprinting up the curiously open left sideline. He veers left to avoid two converging Orangemen and nearly steps out of bounds at midfield before regaining his equilibrium and floating in on disbelieving Syracuse goalie Jay Pfeifer. When a defender hesitates, Goldstein takes two more strides and fires the ball into the far low corner, the toughest spot for the other goalie, who is also a lefty. Pfeifer never moves. Seventy-five yards in 12 seconds.

It's May 11, 2003, and Dartmouth, in the only NCAA men's lacrosse tournament game in school history, has tied the score at 5-5 late in the second quarter. It is the first NCAA tourney goal scored by a goalie in nearly three decades.

Among the 4,000 spectators in the stands, sitting not far from Goldstein's parents, is his new boyfriend, Ethan. Two months later, in something of an epiphany, Goldstein, 20, will come out to his teammates.

The two events, Goldstein says today, were connected.

"A week later I was named All-Ivy League and two weeks after that, All-American and team MVP," Goldstein explained recently in an email. "So I started the summer with a surge of momentum and confidence. It would have almost seemed crazy to not come out after all of that.

"I'm sure scoring the goal helped me have the confidence to come out, just as having a boyfriend for the first time gave me the confidence to score the goal. It was a pretty unbelievable time for someone who had always wanted to be great at sports and had been holding a secret inside for a decade."

As Goldstein would say later, "I guess it takes a gay goalie to have enough balls to score in the NCAA tournament."

Breaking barriers

When the Playboy Magazines came out at summer camp, Goldstein knew he was supposed to feel something. But he didn't. When his friends began having relationships with girls in middle school, he wasn't interested.

"You're trying to fall asleep and you start thinking, 'I'm not like everyone else,'" Goldstein says. "I always imagined that lies and hiding would be a large part of getting through the day."

He did his best to fit in, pretended to be straight, even had a date with a girl. But early in his sophomore year at Milton Academy, in his Massachusetts hometown, he told a friend, Christina.

It was liberating, even thrilling, but Goldstein's secret stayed between the two until July 2003, two months after he scored that groundbreaking goal at Syracuse. On the first day of weight lifting during the summer term, he told defender Matt Nicholson he had a boyfriend.

"Wow, man," Nicholson, who knew Ethan, had the grace to say. "He's hot."

Encouraged, Goldstein asked Nicholson to tell the rest of the team. There were several weeks of awkward uncertainty; initially, Goldstein wouldn't shower with the team after practices and games. He worried that on the team's first road trip that the "unlucky guys who had to be my roommates would complain about sleeping in the same room as the homo." He wondered if anybody would sit next to him on the team bus.

Soon, however, several teammates approached him to apologize for homophobic language and off-color-jokes from the past. They appreciated his toughness in a physically difficult sport and gradually came to accept his sexuality.

In the spring of 2005, two weeks before he graduated from Dartmouth with degrees in biology and biochemistry, ESPN dispatched a crew to Hanover, New Hampshire, to chronicle his story. A handful of notable professional team-sport athletes had come out after their careers ended and, to be sure, there were a number of openly gay athletes in individual sports at the Division I, II and III levels. Still, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound goalie was, the sports network concluded after researching the context, the most accomplished male, team-sport athlete in North America to be openly gay during his playing career.

Later that year he was drafted by the Boston Canons of Major League Lacrosse and eventually played for the Long Island Lizards.

Nearly a decade before American soccer player Robbie Rogers played for the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer, prior to Jason Collins stepping on the court for the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, before Michael Sam, a Missouri defensive end, came out in advance of the 2014 NFL draft, there was Andrew Goldstein.

"Andrew was the first openly gay male athlete to be drafted by a professional sports league in the United States," said Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports.com. "And then he became the first to play in a professional sports league. So he broke two incredible barriers that years later we attribute to Robbie Rogers and Michael Sam.

"In 2005, the gay community didn't want to talk about sports and the sports community didn't want to talk about gay people. Andrew, being an active athlete at the very top of his game, helped change that. You can no longer say that gay men all just want to listen to show tunes. They can be strong powerful men who play sports as well."

The ESPN profile won a television journalism award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. In March 2006, after a clip of his goal was shown to the audience of several thousand at the Marquee Marriott in Times Square, Goldstein was greeted with a rousing standing ovation -- one that ran longer than the reception for winning director Ang Lee in the wake of his opus "Brokeback Mountain."

In 2013 Goldstein was enshrined in the inaugural class of National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame, joined by, among others, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and Greg Louganis.

Doctor Goldstein

Today, at 32, Goldstein seems comfortable in his own skin.

A few months ago at a vegan restaurant, Phillip Frankland Lee's Gadarene Swine in Studio City, California, Goldstein delicately leaned back into the arms of his husband, Jamie Duneier, in the process of ordering a half-dozen small plates for the table. The cauliflower, the crisp yucca and the olive stuffed olives -- and two bottles of a crisp Chablis -- were all memorable, but that small, unconscious gesture was the one that confirmed he is happy.

Professionally, Goldstein already has made headlines. His groundbreaking laboratory at UCLA is making startling progress toward a cure of prostate cancer. After interning and working at two of the world's finest institutions in cancer treatment -- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute -- Goldstein moved to UCLA. As a molecular biology Ph.D. student under immunologist Owen Witte, Goldstein was the lead author of a July 2010 paper published in "Science Magazine" that identified a surprising source of prostate cancer.

"When a cell divides, it has to replicate all of its DNA," Goldstein wrote in a lengthy email designed, impossibly, to put his advances in layman's terms. "Sometimes the cell can make a mistake."

In cases of chronic inflammation and the unhealthy state, often caused by obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise, the immune system can miss some of those mistakes, leading to the production of more cells and, with that, more mistakes. When those mistakes reach a critical mass, cancer can develop.

Previously, conventional wisdom held that prostate tumors originated in luminal cells because tumor cells look similar to luminal cells. Under Witte's supervision, Goldstein isolated both luminal and basal cells from healthy human prostate tissue and engineered them to express cancer-promoting genes, called oncogenes. Then the cells were introduced into mice and allowed to grow for several months. Surprisingly, the malignancies did not appear in the expected luminal cells, but in the basal cells. When examined by a pathologist, the tumors that originated in basal cells were similar to those found in male humans, made up of tumor cells that looked like luminal cells.

"It was a simple result but had profound implications for how we think about the development of not just prostate cancer, but cancer in general," Goldstein wrote. "It says that what we see under the microscope doesn't tell us the history of that tumor because cells can change what they look like from one type of cell to another."

The Los Angeles Times and numerous other media outlets lauded the discovery. Goldstein, a rare "first author" as a graduate student, was the "senior author" in another groundbreaking paper published three years later in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This time, Goldstein's lab outlined the discovery that tumors that originated with basal cells could evolve to live without them, which should help researchers in their search for a cure.

None of this surprised his parents, Sue and Irwin Goldstein, who founded San Diego Sexual Medicine in 2007.

Irwin, a respected urologist, was a principal researcher in the early Viagra trials. Sue was a schoolteacher who supported her husband in his dreams of solving people's sexual problems before those dreams became hers, too.

"Taking normal prostate cells and manipulating them, well, that's pretty cool," Irwin said recently. "No one has ever played with the stem cell before, but that doesn't guarantee that doors are going to open."

Still, that story published in "Science" is displayed on the door of his office, Irwin said, "so every human being gets to see it."

Today, with the help of Sue, who is the program coordinator at SDSM and a certified sexuality educator, the two are collaborating in the pioneering trials of flibanserin, the so-called Viagra for women.

Goldstein has inherited his scientific curiosity and virtuosity from his father, as well as his mother's infectious personality and desire to help others.

"He has always been the good boy, the helpful boy," Sue says. "When he came out, he got calls from Oprah and Out Magazine around the same time. Andrew turned down Oprah, telling me he didn't want to be the token regular person next to all those movie stars. He knew he could be a role model to people in the right context. He did the Out interview.

"He got his message out there. He wanted to make a difference."

Coming out at 12

The Lange house, on a leafy street in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, about 40 miles west of Philadelphia, is a high-energy venue. Scott and Mandy live there with four children: boys Blake, 14, and Braeden, 12; girls Kendall, 10, and Abby, 7; dogs Lucy and Buster; a cat, Duce (named after former Eagles' legend Duce Staley); and two rabbits, Piper and Ziggy.

Lacrosse is the spine of their sporting lives, which is to say their lives in general. Scott's dad, Dick, who grew up on Long Island and went on to score more than 100 goals at Cortland State, coached Scott in youth lacrosse. The son scored 100 goals at West Chester University. Both played attack and wore No. 4. So does Braeden, who is coached by his father and joined in lacrosse by all three siblings. A typical spring week features about 15 practices and games for the entire group. Braeden, who already has a decent command of both hands -- unusual for a kid so young -- plays for three different teams. His goal is to play at Cornell, like his hero, Rob Pannell.

Last fall, Braeden began sixth grade in a new school.

""There are 3,000 men in the four major men's sports in the United States, and right now none of them are out of the closet."" Brian Sims

"I would notice that a lot of people would make, like, homosexual jokes," he explains. "At the time I didn't know why, but it would offend me, really get to me. And then I realized that I was gay."

He had a girlfriend by the end of 2014, but it didn't feel right. When she texted him, asking when he was going to kiss her, he said he'd do it in March. In retrospect, he seems to have had a plan.

On the night of Feb. 9, his parents were lying in bed upstairs around 11, reviewing Braeden's texts on Mandy's iPad, when they found out.

"They all say the same thing -- are you gay?" Mandy says. "So we go into Braeden's room and ask him, 'Are you gay?' And he nodded his head.

"For me, it was probably the proudest moment of my life as a mother. I can't even put into words how brave it was of him. I mean, he's 12. I was like, 'Cool.' The next day I had my big cry in the laundry room, kind of saying goodbye to the life I thought my son would have."

Scott, on the other hand, says he felt like he had been punched in the gut. There is a list of things that you're not supposed to say in that situation -- and he managed to raise just about every one.

"Hey, maybe this is because of some attention you want to get?"

"You may not want to tell anybody yet because you never know."

"Maybe this is just a phase."

"How can a 12-year-old know?"

"It's pretty simple," Scott says now. "The age that you know that you are interested in girls is the same age that you know you can be interested in boys."

A dark spot

Scott came around pretty quickly and, frankly, the rest of the family wasn't too excited about Braeden's news.

"That's OK," said his older brother Blake after his parents told him. "He's still stupid."

The first few weeks went well enough, but soon those jokes began creeping back into the sixth-grade conversations. One boy at his school told Braeden he was going to hell because being gay wasn't mentioned in the Bible. And then there was the cyber-bullying on the app, Ask.fm. It allows Instagram followers to ask and answer questions anonymously and, with that cloak of invisibility, the comments were brutal.

They said they didn't want to have sleepovers with him anymore because he might have a crush on them. He was called names. One kid wanted to fight him, but said he was afraid of touching him.

"He was just kind of devastated," Mandy says. "He didn't know who he could trust anymore. He went from being cautiously optimistic to, just, Braeden was gone.

"From there he would start talking about suicide, and I knew he wasn't just saying it. My mother committed suicide, so I'd been down that path before."

Scott, too, was terrified.

"He was about as withdrawn as a kid can get," Scott says. "Not leaving his room, crying himself to sleep almost every night. Saying things like, 'I wish I was normal. Why do people treat me differently?' Then he would go on to say he just didn't want to be here anymore. He wanted to kill himself."

Scott had found the statistics on-line: The suicide rate for gay teens is thought to be four times the national average.

"I felt like I was in a corner and I was all alone, even though I was the one pushing people away," Braeden says. "It was, like, a really dark spot for me."

Making a connection

Five weeks after Braeden came out, on March 16, the Langes found Andrew Goldstein.

Mandy remembered seeing a television piece on a gay lacrosse player and within a few minutes she had Googled the ESPN feature. Watching it with Scott, she immediately felt better. Scott, doing further research, discovered Goldstein was a doctor at UCLA. He quickly tracked down his email address.

Goldstein was eating lunch in his laboratory when he opened the email.

"I read just a few sentences," he says, "and it just broke my heart. These parents were watching their kid struggle, progressively watching them lose him, essentially."

When he returned to their then-Topanga home, Goldstein and his husband, Duneier, shot a video out on the back deck for Braeden.

Scott and Mandy showed Braeden the feature when he got home from school and, for the first time in weeks, he smiled.

The video arrived via email after supper.

"You're the bravest kid I've ever heard of," Goldstein told him. "It's a tough road, not every day will be easy. But it's all going to work out, it's going to be all good in the end. I look forward to going to Philly and meeting you."

Braeden, tears in his eyes, was awed.

"It was me saying to myself, 'I'm not alone, because there's other people like me,'" he says. "It really, like, gave me some hope knowing that if he could do it, I could probably do it, too."

Says Mandy: "He got that video, and everything was different. Braeden was back to being Braeden."

Seven days later, a package for Braeden came in the mail. When he opened it, surrounded by the family in the front foyer, it felt like Christmas. It was Goldstein's Long Island Lizards helmet.

The Courage Game

Thank-you notes are often a sign of good parenting, even if they are sometimes written under duress.

A flurry of emails, videos and calls had led to a meeting between the Lange family and Goldstein and Duneier, who were visiting New York City to be with Jamie's family on the upper east side for Passover. A few days before, Scott asked him to write a thank-you note to Goldstein, who also would be celebrating his 32nd birthday. No response. Five minutes later, Scott handed his son a piece of paper and made the request again. Fifteen minutes later, Braeden dropped a full-page, 8½-by-11-inch note in clean, earnest handwriting on Scott's chest and walked out of the room.

"Braeden is not one who has always gone above and beyond -- that's not Braeden's gig," Scott says. "I read his letter and was absolutely blown away."

The end went like this:

Thank you for making me realize that I'm not alone. Your video touched my heart and the day I got that video was the best day of my life. Your video and all of the other ones boosted my confidence to where I felt like I was unstoppable. ... So I wanted to thank you for not only being my role model but for being my friend."

The families had dinner in Times Square, bonding in almost madcap fashion, and Andrew and Braeden had a memorable lacrosse catch in Central Park.

On Memorial Day weekend, Andrew threw Braeden an entire game. On the day before the 2015 Division I lacrosse championship game between Denver and Maryland at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, a few miles away on the campus of Pennsylvania University, several hundred people, gay lacrosse players and their allies, gathered for The Courage Game.

"You want to know how much courage it takes for a 12-year-old boy?" asks Brian Sims. "There are 3,000 men in the four major men's sports in the United States, and right now none of them are out of the closet."

An enduring friendship

The Lange's black refrigerator is an impressionistic montage of their riotous life:

In the upper-right corner there is a picture of Scott -- he says Kevin James, to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance, will play him in the movie -- with Blake, then aged 11, and the trophy he won after he placed third at 95 pounds in his first wrestling tournament. You can see the happy tears in Scott's eyes. Slightly above, framed by a purple puzzle-piece frame, Mandy holds a then-6-month-old Kendall. To the left, Scott proudly holds the championship trophy won by his Gen3 marketing team -- after he scored a behind-the-back goal in overtime in the title game. To the right is a newspaper advertisement for Valotta Studios' summer camps, where Kendall learned to play the guitar. Just above is a photo of Andrew and Jamie, side by side, smiling broadly.

At their new place in Westwood, there is a picture of Braeden and Andrew taken at The Courage Game on a wall in the den. Braeden's framed letter is on a nearby wall and the quilt that Mandy had made of Braeden's lacrosse jerseys hangs on the wall of their bedroom. When Andrew feels a chill in the air, the Freedom Lacrosse sweatshirt, representing Braeden's Pennsylvania club team, comes out of the closet.

Goldstein used to fear that he would never be able to get married and have children, but society has changed appreciably in the past decade or two.

He and Jamie are planning to have a child; there is an extra room in their home for just that reason. Andrew's older sister, Lauren, donated an egg and Jamie provided the sperm. It's already an embryo sitting in a southern California fertility clinic freezer.

A few months ago, not long after the television cameras had left the house, Mandy sat on her living room couch, legs tucked beneath her, and talked about the growing relationship between the Lange family and Andrew and Jamie's and about her plans to visit them this summer in Los Angeles. She had offered, she said, to carry their baby.

"I feel like I owe them one."

The visit occurred earlier this month and, after a number of emotional discussions, "We all agreed it's probably best for our long-term friendship to keep things clean," Goldstein explained, "and instead hire a surrogate we aren't friends with to carry the baby when we are ready. We thanked them deeply for the incredibly generous offer, but we assured Mandy that she doesn't need to carry our child in order to show her gratitude.

"Our friendship means everything."