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Palomar College coach tells gay football player "yes" he can try out, then "no"

SAN DIEGO — In September 2012, Jamie Kuntz was kicked off his college football team within 24 hours of his coach learning he was gay. Since then, the All-Conference linebacker has not been able to find another team to play for.

But last week, Kuntz said he accepted an offer to try out for the Palomar College Comets in San Marcos, Calif. However, the school rescinded the offer within days of learning about Kuntz’s sexual identity and the events leading to his dismissal from the North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS).

Living with a lie

Kuntz initially lied to NDSCS coach Chuck Parsons about a set of circumstances that would have outed him while on a team trip to Colorado. However, once safely back in his North Dakota dormitory 16 hours later, Kuntz confessed to those circumstances. He had been caught kissing his much older boyfriend while filming game footage in the stadium’s press box. The admission made Parsons only the third person in whom Kuntz had confided his deepest secret.

The day after the confession, Kuntz found himself out of the closet and out of football.

While the official line is that Parsons kicked him off the team for “lying” and “becoming a distraction,” Kuntz maintains his dismissal was solely the result of his sexual identity.

“There are players who were still on the team who had done way worse,” he told San Diego Gay & Lesbian News in an interview published earlier this month, “even some who had committed crimes.”

On Friday, Jan. 18, SDGLN published an article looking back at the events surrounding Kuntz’s dismissal from the team and the subsequent media firestorm that landed him and his relationship with his 65-year-old partner on the front pages of several sports and LGBT-oriented websites, from Huffington Post to FoxSports.com.

The SDGLN article explored what the teenager’s life has been since he became a cause celebre for gay college athletes. The article revealed a young man whose life is completely upended as he is now out of school, working in a pizza shop, and not sure when or if he would ever play football again. However, the SDGLN article was held by a few days because of a surprise and potentially happy twist of fate.

Stop the presses!

As a result of SDGLN’s initial reporting, Kuntz decided to look into colleges in San Diego County, hoping that a more metropolitan area might be accepting of a gay player. His hopes seem to have been realized when Palomar’s coaching staff contacted him after reviewing his senior year highlight reel on YouTube.

Within three days of Kuntz reaching out to the Palomar staff, and as the SDGLN article was about to be published, Kuntz said he had been verbally offered a chance to earn a spot on the team’s 2013 roster. Subsequent text messages acquired by SDGLN between Kuntz and a member of the Palomar coaching staff appear to corroborate Kuntz’s impression.

Two days later Kuntz accepted Palomar’s offer, and the team’s linebackers coach Robert Bala was more than pleased. In a text message obtained by SDGLN, Bala responded to Kuntz’s acceptance:

“That’s great news!”

“I’m really excited for you and to have you. I will let the rest of the staff know. I’ll give you a call tomorrow to move forward with everything.”

Going forward and sideways

The following day, Bala called Kuntz and said as part of their due diligence, he needed to speak to Kuntz’s NDSCS coach. This forced a conversation Kuntz anticipated but was, perhaps naively, hoping to be able to have in person.

When he reached out to Palomar initially, he left out his “backstory” hoping to be judged by the same standard every other would-be college athlete is: on ability.

With no suitable option but to be forthcoming about the circumstances leading to his departure from NDSCS, Kuntz, unable to muster the courage to tell Bala on the phone, instead sent the following text message:

“I’m embarrassed to say, but I’m gay and that didn’t sit right with my coaches and when they found out I was dismissed from the team.”

Bala responded to the news warmly, texting back:

“You shouldn’t be embarrassed about anything. That’s your personal life and we do not reserve the right to judge. But I will need to speak with [Parsons] before we move forward.”

The North Dakota line

SDGLN contacted NDSCS to find out what the school would be saying to potential coaches about Kuntz, given the unique set of circumstances surrounding his departure.

As a matter of policy, SDGLN learned, Coach Parsons was no longer permitted to speak to anyone about Kuntz, whether the caller was a coach or a member of the media. Instead, all calls concerning Kuntz were to be filtered to either the public relations department or to Athletic Director Stu Engen, depending on who was making the inquiry.

Engen told SDGLN that NDSCS’s official position regarding Kuntz was that the school hopes another college “takes a chance” on him, and that the school would officially say that it had “no record of Mr. Kuntz having any issues on the field, in his dorm, on campus or in the community to indicate he would be a problem at any other school.”

Engen told SDLGN that he had earlier in the day told the same thing to the coach from Palomar College.

The offer that wasn’t

After his call with Engen, Palomar’s Bala called Kuntz and said he “had some tough questions,” Kuntz said. “He asked me why I was kicked off the team. I told him because I lied. Then he asked me why I lied.”

Kuntz explained the circumstances as best he could and, when the call was over, he told SDLGN that the coach was relatively positive and thanked him for being so up front and honest. He said the coaches would discuss the situation the following Tuesday, Jan. 22, and Bala would inform Kuntz if they wanted to bring him to Palomar.

This meant the offer made earlier in the week and accepted the day before may now not become an offer at all.

When Bala called Kuntz on Jan. 22, the answer was ,in fact, no. The offer had been rescinded. Kuntz would not be a Palomar Comet in 2013.

Why did Palomar say no?

As of the writing of this article, Palomar College’s head coach Joe Early did not reply to repeated requests by SDGLN for an interview to ask what part of Kuntz’s story caused the coaching staff to rescind its offer.

For his part, Kuntz recalled the conversation only vaguely.

“I kind of tuned out once they said ‘no’” Kuntz said, though he does remember the reasons they gave.

“They said it was very tough for an out-of-state student to come in and play because it’s hard to find work and housing and it’s more expensive,” Kuntz said. “He also said they didn’t want to send the wrong message to their team by bringing in someone who was kicked off another team.”

While it is true that students coming from outside California pay a higher “non-resident” tuition fee at colleges and universities, a review of public records shows the 2012 edition of the Palomar College Comets had 15 players from outside the Golden State, including some from Georgia, Utah, Arizona, Hawaii, North Carolina, Ohio, Washington, Oregon, American Samoa and even one player from Japan.

In California, while community college athletes can apply for and receive financial aid, they cannot receive athletic scholarships, so it’s unclear what challenges Kuntz would face financially that would somehow be more strenuous for him than it was for those 15 others.

“It makes me not want to be gay”

Given what SDGLN’s reporting has uncovered and the timing of the school’s decision to rescind the offer — just days after they found out he was gay — Kuntz says he wonders if the real reason he’s being denied a chance to earn a spot on the Palomar roster is a case of history repeating itself.

Palomar College has not granted SDGLN’s interview requests over the past week, including three made with the school’s public affairs office, so Kuntz may never know.

Kuntz is understandably frustrated. After more than a year since he played a snap in an actual game, he knows the clock is ticking.

“If I don’t get picked up by a team soon, my playing days could be over,” he said. While Kuntz is working hard at the gym to stay in shape in case he gets another opportunity, he says the speed and pace of the game can’t be made up for in the gym. “I need to play.”

Of this latest disappointment, “It makes me not want to be gay,” Kuntz said.

All photos at the left are of Jamie Kuntz