In September 2012, 18-year-old Jamie Kuntz was a football scholarship student at North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS).
Today, Kuntz is the object of debate between those who insist he was ousted from the NDSCS team for lying to his coach and committing actions that were detrimental to the team, and those who insist he was ousted for being gay.
The issue was resurrected last week, because Kuntz has been looking for another college to play for, and San Diego North County’s Palomar College indicated a desire to recruit him, but then declined to do so after hearing the whole story, which is, in short, as follows.
Back in September, Kuntz was assigned the task of videotaping a NDSCS away game from the press booth, because he was recuperating from a concussion. During the game, he was seen kissing an older man. Someone reported it to the coach, Chuck Parsons, who pulled Kuntz off the bus after the game and questioned him. Kuntz lied, saying the man was his grandfather. Some hours later, he apologized to his coach for lying and admitted that the man was a boyfriend and that he, Kuntz, was gay. A couple days later, Kuntz was kicked off the team, losing his scholarship in the process.
By now, there have been plenty of revisions of statements by all parties involved, some of them a bit contradictory, but the basics remain the same: Kuntz and the older man were intimate in the press box; Kuntz owned up to having lied about it because he was a closeted gay; and the NDSCS coach and the athletic director, Stu Engen, removed him from the team.
Engen adamantly defended his decision, on camera, as having nothing to do with “what transpired in that booth,” but rather having been based on the “effect that it had on the team. … Had this been a heterosexual incident, would we come to the same conclusion? And we concluded yes.”
But what of the incident’s effects on Kuntz? Did Parsons and Engen employ any strategies to transform the situation into a learning moment for the team, to defuse any fear or distrust, to help Kuntz address the issues that caused him to lie?
Remember, he was still a team member while Parsons and Engen were in the investigation and decision-making processes; they were as responsible for his welfare as that of the other team members.
Ultimately, given the nation’s ongoing crisis of gay teen bullying and suicides, it seems that Parsons and Engen’s response was woefully devoid of concern for Kuntz’ wellbeing; concern for his fear of coming out to the team, to his family, to his small town community; concern for instilling a mature attitude of acceptance within the team.
But I admittedly know nothing about coaching, so I asked a couple of coaches.
Robin Reese, a girls’ volleyball coach and former college athlete, questioned NDSCS’ resolution. “Above everything else, you’re worried about your players’ safety and becoming good people. That’s what sports is all about. And given the situation, [Kuntz] lied because he was scared, he lied because of fear that the team could have ganged up on him. And you have to look into who else has lied and what their punishment was. Is there a no drinking rule, and they’re caught drinking—were they kicked off then? Should [Kuntz’] particular lie be cause for dismissal? No, because he came back and tried to make it right.”
Lisa Ratnavira, a former coach with a Master in Coaching and Athletic Administration, reiterated that the coach is responsible for all of his or her players’ safety. “The coach has not only the responsibility to train the player for the best interests of the team, but also for the best interests of the player. [Kuntz] is not the first player to lie to his coach, whether it’s smoking or drinking or kissing a guy. I can imagine this coach has been lied to more than he’s been told the truth. But a reasonable response in this case would be: ‘I’d like you to get some counseling. I’d like you to get some help with your sexual orientation.’ Because of the rate of suicide with this, the coach’s responsibility for the student is to take care of the kid’s mental health. The lie itself is merely a reflection that the player isn’t resolved yet. Getting that player help would have been the appropriate response.”
Still, team members and staff alike deny that Kuntz’ sexuality has anything to do with anything, but I wonder.
If team members had witnessed Kuntz sucking face with a comely young woman, would their first thought have been to tattle to the coach or to make a beeline to Kuntz to beg for the juicy details?
If Kuntz had lied and identified the young woman as his cousin, only to come back later and own up to her being his date, would Parsons and Engen have found the lie so disturbing and Kuntz’ actions so “detrimental” to the team?
And if Kuntz were heterosexual, would he have felt compelled to lie about the young woman’s identity in order to protect himself from discrimination?
Of course Kuntz was ousted because he is gay.
What’s worse, though, is that Parsons and Engen have not been ousted for their failure to protect the welfare of one of their young athletes.
Ratnavira said it best. “Discipline without love is cruel.”
Kit-Bacon Gressitt's commentary and political fiction can be read on her blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing and have been published by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, The Ocean Beach Rag, The Progressive Post and San Diego Free Press. She formerly worked for the North County Times. She is also host of Fallbrook's monthly Writers Read open mic and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.