Local Gay Lacrosse Player Wants to End Youth Homophobia
“I didn’t really want my parents to know,” Knollmeyer says.
Toward the end of that school year, Sam’s mother found a note in her son’s laundry. A friend of Sam’s had written it in geometry class, saying the friend accepted Knollmeyer for who he is. Knollmeyer pocketed the note and, later, didn’t pull it out before sending his clothes down the laundry chute.
Crinkled up and barely legible, Sam’s father had the note when the two talked. He told his son that Sam’s parents were supportive. Listening, Knollmeyer started getting teary-eyed.
His parents finding out wasn’t the only thing Knollmeyer was dealing with around this time. Knollmeyer was feeling broken inside, and it came to a head one night during a lacrosse tournament on the campus of University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Knollmeyer was with Scott and an assistant coach in one of the dorm rooms hanging out and watching a firework show. His teammates had taken off, opting to hang out with members of the girls’ lacrosse teams. Soon, the assistant coach headed out, too, realizing that something was up and that the goalie wanted to talk with Scott alone.
Knollmeyer went to his room to wait, while Scott stopped off at his own to get a beer. When Scott got to Sam’s room, he found him, upset, perched on the top bunk.
“I don’t know,” Knollmeyer said after Scott asked him what was wrong. “I think I’ve made a big mistake.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not sure that I’m gay.”
The two spent the next tear-filled hour talking.
“He felt uncomfortable, and the reality of it is that Sam didn’t come out of his own choosing,” Scott explains, looking back. “In essence, he was forced out of the closet in a lot of ways.”
Knollmeyer told his coach that there was something wrong with himself, saying he felt broken. That being gay meant Knollmeyer wasn’t falling in line with societal norms of one day having the perfect nuclear family, a house, a white picket fence. That being gay meant Knollmeyer was broken.
Hearing this, Scott was devastated.
“Your heart gets ripped out of your chest and you bleed raw emotion,” Scott says. “You get mad at the world. You get mad at the people that make him feel that way.”
No matter what, Scott told Sam, the teenager was a great human being and that wasn’t subject to change because of Sam’s sexual preference. Knollmeyer shouldn’t let sexuality define who he was, Scott added.
Things have gotten better for Knollmeyer since those first months after coming out. However, it’s still been rocky at times.
Coming out showed Knollmeyer who his true friends are. At Plymouth North, things remained the same between him and his lacrosse friends. The same held true with his club friends from Team Cape Cod; they didn’t really care about Sam’s sexual orientation. Some non-lacrosse friends, though, shied away.
Knollmeyer transferred to Thayer Academy in Braintree, Massachusetts, this past autumn for his junior year of high school. For a couple of reasons, he isn’t out yet at Thayer aside for a few select people. One being, as the new kid, he didn’t want any extra attention at a school where, he says, there aren’t many students who are openly gay or bisexual. Another reason is he was afraid college coaches might find out as they talk with other college-bound athletes at the school. Knollmeyer had never heard of a college athletics program not pursue a recruit because of his or her sexuality, but that scared Knollmeyer—he didn’t want to be the exception.
It’s a fear he faced this past Memorial Day weekend.
Discussion about ending homophobia in lacrosse started around wintertime the year after Knollmeyer came out to Scott. Knollmeyer wanted a lacrosse club program with Athlete Ally, a nonprofit focused on inclusion. However, roadblocks popped up and the vision never became a reality.
Afterward, Sam’s mission was put on the back burner while he focused on transitioning at Thayer as well as on his lacrosse game. Then, Scott heard about the Courage Game.
In just six weeks’ time, the Courage Game—featuring two exhibition lacrosse games, one for youth and one for adults—was created to support the youth LGBT community. More than 300 people showed up on May 24, 2015, for the event held on University of Pennsylvania’s campus. Scott did PR work for it. Knollmeyer coached goalies during the youth game and played when the adults took the field.
“I was struck by the fact that there was equality and inclusion in every aspect of it,” Scott says, adding that age and where the players came from geographically didn’t matter that day. “There wasn’t even a gold team and a white team. It was just a bunch of lacrosse players having fun.”
It was late in the afternoon and Glenn Witman was emotional. With the Courage Game in the books, the cofounder of You Can Play Project—an LGBT sports organization working toward safety and inclusion that helped put on the Courage Game—was headed into UPenn’s tennis facility when he heard an order barked.
“You march back up those steps! If there is a coach out there that won’t allow you to play on his team because you’re gay, you don’t want to play for that coach.”
Inside, ESPN was conducting interviews for a television piece on the Courage Game. Knollmeyer was one of the people being interviewed, but was struggling. Stumbling, he’d start and restart answering the same question on what the Courage Game meant to him. Trying to choose his words carefully, he was afraid of coming out on national television where a college coach who might recruit him could see.
Witman, sporting a You Can Play Project polo, introduced himself to Scott and asked what school Scott and Knollmeyer were talking about. It was Middlebury College.
Supporters of the You Can Play Project—from high schools and college athletics programs to professional athletes—do videos. Each stress the organization’s message that an athlete should be judged on his or her abilities and not their sexual orientation. When Witman heard Scott name Middlebury, the cofounder pulled out his iPhone.
The Middlebury video wasn’t long, just under two minutes in all, and featured numerous sports and athletes. Among them that appeared on the phone’s small screen was the school’s men’s lacrosse team.
Scott watched the video first. Then it made its way to Knollmeyer. It was eye-opening. Knollmeyer realized things would be fine in college. The video also put the ESPN interview in a new light for the teenager. If he came out on television, someone going through what he’s endured could find the courage and strength to accept themselves.
“It was an incredible moment,” Witman says. “[Sam] just had this weight lifted off his shoulders. I mean, he can now be himself.”
It’s a Monday night in mid-June 2015. Knollmeyer’s sitting on a beaten-down wicker chair in the pool shed at his parents’ house. The smell of chlorine tablets hangs in the air while the occasional howl of a nearby fisher cat breaks up the quiet.
Knollmeyer says ending youth homophobia is important to him and that he wants to focus on it at the middle school and high school levels because of the developmental problems that take place there. It’s something he wants to devote a lot of his life to, but he knows creating a more inclusive environment will take time and substantial resources. That’s one of the reasons why Knollmeyer wants to be an investment banker.
Never one to sit still, the rising high school senior rips up a pool noodle into little pieces while he talks.
“You can’t do that when you don’t have money behind it,” he says, adding that money makes the world go round. “You gotta win the game in order to go back and change it.”