story via Outsportsphoto credit: Mandy Stumbo
Dalton Maldonado plays basketball for Betsy Layne High School in Kentucky. Now, I’m not big on the sports scene, but from what I’ve read they weren’t exactly a top-tier team. In fact, at a basketball tournament last winter, Betsy Layne was being badly beaten by the opposing team, so Maldonado, a starter for his team, sat out the fourth quarter.
After the loss — by some 32 points — Dalton lined up with his team to shake hands with the victors, and heard someone shout:
"Hey No. 3, I hear you're a faggot."
For the record, Dalton Maldonado is No. 3 and he is gay, and so he turned to see who yelled and found several people staring back at him. And though there had been rumors that Dalton was gay, he’d still not told anyone except for two friends, including his best friend McKenzie Akers; and he’d only come out to his parents a week earlier. Still, he decided to defuse the situation with a joke:
"Yeah baby, can I have your number?"
I love that; it completely shut down the other player. There was no fear and no shame and no hiding; it was the equivalent of a great big, Yeah? So what? But now, because of some jerk at a basketball game, things would change.
"I sat back down and realized that I had just came out, and it was definitely not the way I wanted to. Reflecting back to this moment I realize that there was nothing I could do about it. … My teammates asked what was wrong, and what he had said to me. McKenzie told them to stop questioning me, but they kept asking and asking. It just built up this pressure in me. I finally stood up and said, ‘I'm gay, I'm gay, okay?'" — Dalton Maldonado
It wasn’t how he’d wanted to come out; it wasn’t when he’d wanted to come out. In fact, he never wanted to come out while playing sports at all because he knew about the whispers and jokes, and locker-room mumblings about gay men not being good athletes. But now he was out, and it was supposed to get better.
Instead it got worse; as Dalton and his team headed to the bus, members of the opposing team were waiting, calling him a "faggot" and telling him to face them. When Dalton ignored them and got on the bus, the other team began pounding on the windows and shouting “faggot” at him; a couple of players from the team even tried to board bus, but were pushed back by the coaches and team members and finally the bus pulled away.
Yet it still wasn’t over … The other team got in their cars and pursued the bus, making hand gestures at Dalton like they wanted to shoot him. Betsy Layne coaches called the police to tell them they were being chased by members of a basketball team because one of their players was gay. Finally the coach of the opposing team, I believe they’re called the Homophobes — in reality, the name of the opposing school is not mentioned because the school is on spring break and administrators were not able to respond to the story — calmed his team down as police met the Betsy Layne bus at their hotel.
But it wasn’t over … Both teams were in the middle of a four-day tournament and still had games to play. The hotel was put on "lock down," with only Betsy Layne players allowed access to a certain floor, while tournament organizers and school athletic directors decided what to do. The question was whether they would stay and play, or go home; it was kind of left up to Dalton Maldonado, who chose to finish the games.
For the rest of the tournament, local police escorted the team to and from their games, and the opposing team was kept away from Betsy Layne High School, though they still tried to intimidate Dalton; when those homophobic players tried to do a shoot-around at halftime of a Betsy Layne game, they were removed from the floor.
“If we would've went home it would've looked like I was ashamed of who I am, and I'm not ashamed of who I am. I can stand up for myself, and I had my teammates and coaches by my side. I knew we would be okay. God wouldn't let anything happen to us. We had come three hours to a tournament and we were finally playing as a team and coming together."
What is sad, and sick, and odd and twisted, and in the end, quite hopeful about this story, is that while the unnamed team shouted horrific names at Dalton, his own team, finding out at that moment that he was gay, instantly stood by his side.
"To this day I haven't lost a friend over coming out. I've actually become closer to them. In fact, the one person in my school and on my team I was scared to tell sung the song ‘Same Love' to me as he told me he would always be here for me and was proud of me. It was then that I realized how truly blessed I was."
But this is Kentucky, and, well, things take time to change there, especially in rural Kentucky. The name calling wasn’t exactly over, and as other schools learned about the gay player, Dalton would be called names; at one game the band for the opposing team began chanting "fag-got fag-got." But now it was different; now his team knew and they stood behind him; Dalton Maldonado wasn’t only or different or on the outside for being gay.
"I felt like I didn't have anything to hide anymore, and the fact that they accepted me made it all better!"
Dalton Maldonado will probably attend Kentucky University in the fall, and he may play basketball for them; while he loves the game, he’s not exactly the best play, so he may hang up his basketball shoes. But he wanted to tell his story; he wanted people to know that coming out was the best thing he ever did, even the way he was forced to do it. In fact, he says if he’d known how his coaches and his team would respond, he would have done it sooner.
"It was so much easier playing my senior year because I didn't have to worry about my parents or teammates finding out because I had already told them. I feel like this can help other young athletes, help them come out. My freshman year I didn't think I would ever come out. Now here I am telling the world."