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When Jamie Kuntz kissed his much-older boyfriend at a football game last September, the 18-year-old all-star had no idea it would set off a chain of events that would stir up a national media storm and throw his life into chaos.
Now, as Kuntz struggles to pick up the pieces, he finds himself out of the closet, out of school and out of football. But could the Midwesterner find a welcoming college team in Southern California, where one local football coach tells San Diego Gay & Lesbian News that he doesn't see why not.
First, a little background
Kuntz, a linebacker with the North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) Wildcats, had sustained a concussion while practicing with his team earlier in the week and was relegated to film duty when they traveled 930 miles to play against Snow College in Pueblo, Colo. on Sept. 1, 2012.
Because Kuntz would be in the stadium’s press box filming game footage for his coaches instead of knocking helmets on the field, he had an opportunity to spend time with his boyfriend, a 65-year-old Denver resident who drove to Pueblo for the occasion. While alone in the box, Kuntz and his boyfriend made out a little, a spontaneous moment that was supposed to be private but was somehow seen by a teammate down on the field and later reported to head football coach Chuck Parsons.
After the game, with most of the team already seated on the bus ready for the long trip back to Wapheton, N.D., Parsons asked Kuntz to step off the bus so they could speak privately.
“Coach asked me ‘What happened in the press box?’” Kuntz told San Diego Gay and Lesbian News in an exclusive interview. “I just played dumb and said I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then he asked me ‘Who was with you?’” Kuntz said he started getting nervous and then did what nearly any 18 year old 930 miles away from home would do. He lied. “I told him it was my grandpa.”
Kuntz said the lie came easy. “I didn’t even think about it,” he said. “I’ve been living a lie for 18 years, so it came natural when someone asked something that even hinted at me being gay.”
The long ride home
Eventually Kuntz was allowed back on the bus for what had to be the longest ride of his life. About 16 hours later, once safely back in Wapheton, Kuntz came clean. He sent a text message to his coach stating that he had lied and admitting to the affair. Parsons ordered him to his office on Monday at 1 pm.
At the meeting, Kuntz was told he was no longer a member of the football team. Parsons justified his decision in a letter stating that the linebacker had become a distraction and lied to his coach. Kuntz pleaded to stay on the team but Parsons refused. With that, a player the coach wanted badly enough to give a scholarship had his Wildcats career ended before it began.
The media effect
Confused and shell-shocked, Kuntz decided to reach out to gay blogger Dan Savage to tell his story. He told the blogger that regardless of the lie, there was no doubt he was kicked off the team because he was gay. He would say other Wildcats players had also lied and still others had done much worse, yet they were all still on the team.
Savage ran with the story and it soon went viral, appearing on Huffington Post, Associated Press, FOX Sports and ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
The resulting media attention required Coach Parsons defend his decision to the media. He explained matter-of-factly that Kuntz had lied and that was the reason he was removed from the team. Parsons didn’t seem to care that Kuntz came clean voluntarily and less than 24 hours later. The coach also never seemed to consider whether the question was appropriate to ask in the first place, or how the teenager might feel answering it while 930 miles away from home.
The spotlight was so intense that college officials felt the need to defend the embattled Parsons and issue a statement by the school’s president John Richman:
“All students and faculty must abide by college policies, and this one is very clear. Despite how this is being portrayed by some, Jamie’s sexual orientation had nothing to do with his dismissal from the football team. NDSCS is a welcoming campus where individual differences are valued and respected.”
Coming out to mom
Before the story could break, though, Kuntz needed to call his mom. He had to tell her he was coming home, that he’d been kicked off the football team and that he was gay. He also had to tell her that he had a boyfriend who was 65 years old, and that they had met via the Internet.
What happened next is what doesn’t happen every time a son comes out to his mother — she was contacted by the Associated Press.
Without a lot of time to process what was happening — the loss of her son’s education and his dream of playing football, and the shock of his coming out — Rita Kuntz told AP she had accepted the news that her son is gay.
“I love Jamie and I’m proud of him,” she would tell the wire service, “but I know what the school did was wrong.” As far her son’s relationship, she said the man 47 years her son’s senior, was “taking advantage” of Jamie.
After the storm
When all the stories had been written and Kuntz’s sexual orientation and relationship had disappeared from website landing pages, there was still a teenager, now 19, in small town Dickinson, N.D., who still loves his boyfriend and the game of football and desperately wants to get back on the field.
While he has tried to figure out the best way to do that, he has received support from several NFL personalities, most notably are outspoken Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brenden Ayanbadejo.
In defense of May-December relationships
He has also been criticized by some in the gay community who have called his relationship “sick” and “disgusting” on various blogs. He knows many people will or have read about him and stop when they find out his boyfriend is much older, never processing the rest of the story — how he was forced out of the closet and forced out of football.
Kuntz also fiercely guards his boyfriend's identity and privacy.
For his part, Kuntz is unapologetic.
“I really don’t give a sh*t if people think I'm a freak,” he said, “because those people would most likely not say anything to us in person. Grow a pair! It’s whatever. It’s funny, though, how us ‘gays’ are always saying ‘Love is Love’ to the straight people who hate us, but then we turn on our own when we don’t approve of the age? How can we expect homophobes to understand gay people, if gay people can’t understand love? It baffles me.”
As for Rita Kuntz, Jamie says his mother has come around to accepting his relationship. “We sat down and talked about him,” he said. “We have cleared everything up. I mean, it’s not every day your son comes out and says he has a 65-year-old boyfriend in the same day!”
Kuntz says he gets to see his boyfriend every couple of months and the two have known each other about a year.
Back to the field?
The linebacker, who is 6 feet tall and weighs 215 pounds, says he won’t give up on his dream of playing football and while he doesn’t know when or where he’ll be putting on another uniform, he’s spending long hours in the gym making sure he’s ready.
“I love football,” he said. “Sometimes the early mornings and long running sessions in the afternoon are a drag, but it needs to be done. I will be in the best shape of my life when my time is called.”
Kuntz knows that his sexual orientation will most certainly be known to his new teammates and coaches, wherever and whomever they might be. There will be no hiding or secrets this time.
While that may be liberating, it may also be limiting. Certainly he won’t be welcome back to the Wildcats of eastern North Dakota, but what about other cities?
Could Kuntz be coming to San Diego?
SDGLN contacted Mesa College head football coach Henry Browne to ask if a gay player would be welcome there. We shared a little about Kuntz’s story and Coach Browne replied, “I can’t imagine he would have that problem in a metropolitan area.”
When asked if Coach Browne had been told by some of his players that another player might be gay, would he feel the situation needed to be addressed, Coach Brown replied, “I have no idea why that would be a problem.”
Kuntz wants to play for a major college but needs to get some academic credits out of the way first. That said, a community college football team is on his radar and he has already reached out to some coaches in Southern California. He doesn’t know what the impact of all the attention will be on his football career.
Last year’s publicity might help by getting coaches interested in watching his Youtube highlight reel and deciding they need a fast, aggressive linebacker on their team. It might also cause coaches to shy away, worried that Kuntz might have residual baggage from the dust-up.
One thing’s for sure. The effect so far has been profound. “I’m out, and I’m not playing football,” he said. “I just hope I can play again.”