Gay tennis player spurred to come out by a caring friend

Going into my freshman year at Michigan State University I told myself it was a fresh start and that it was going to be different as I struggled with how to come out as gay.

Unfortunately, it was more of the same as I stayed closeted and tormented. I was still thoroughly depressed because I couldn’t handle the stress any more.

In this moment I reached out Vinny, a teammate from my high school tennis team, telling him how sad I was, how I didn’t want to do this anymore and that I was going to make it stop. I then ignored messages on my phone.

Not hearing back from me and worried that I might have harmed myself, my concerned teammate became very worried and called East Lansing police. Officers showed up to my dorm and took me to the hospital to be evaluated.

I was unable to leave the hospital on my own and needed my dad to drive from Grand Rapids to sign me out. I was mortified. What was I supposed to tell him? I was furious at my friend and started to say yell at him and his response became a pivotal moment in my life.

“I understand you’re hurting,” Vinny told me, “and if you need to do this to feel better, then do it because I know you don’t mean it. I am here for you and will do anything to support you.”

It was the beginning of a major change that has only gotten better, including me meeting the man who will be my husband.

Growing up, I always knew I was different. Being 10, I didn’t really know what that difference was. I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my family about these feelings so I just learned to repress them.

My immediate family lived in a city in Michigan. The rest of my aunts, uncles and cousins lived in small rural cities around the Midwest where they were essentially closed off to diversity. It showed when they would tell racist jokes, not thinking they were racist. They would talk about male dominance. They would consistently joke about being gay and using it as an insult.

It is no surprise that as I grew older and started to realize I was gay, I suppressed the feelings and tried to appear as heterosexual as possible. My whole life I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. I was always the outlier among my friends or family. I just wanted to fit in, even if it meant not being who I was supposed to be.

In high school the realization of being gay smacked me in the face. I responded by dating a lot of girls hoping that if I found the right one, it would just make the gay go away. I prayed that it would go away and I tried to find if there was a cure.

Hail Sparty! Greg Nelson with his friend Matt and sister Kali.

By doing this, I pushed myself away from friends and family. I became angry all the time. I felt alone every day. When I would try to reach out for help and was told “don’t you realize everything you have?” as if that would miraculously make everything OK. I fell into a deep depression that no one could seem to get me out of and it didn’t help that I hid how bad I was feeling. I also thought that if I asked for help, I would be seen as weak and would make me even more isolated then I already was.

All of this happening as a junior in high school while dating this amazing girl. The only outlet I was able to find was sports.

Sports gave me that out to push myself in other ways and allowed me to forget what I was worried about. Tennis was the sport that gave me the most escape. I loved having the team behind me, but also relying on myself to make the shot and win the match. It was the sport that gave me the little confidence. I had the best tennis team filled with the strangest, funniest and most supportive guys I have come to know along with a coach who pushed us to be out best, but was there for us when we needed.

During my junior year of tennis, I befriended a senior on the team and we got very close. He put me at ease and he reminded me of me — weird, isolated, and alone. We were hanging out and one thing led to another and we started to kiss and I loved it. That feeling of love and admiration instantly turned to fear and hate. I sprinted out of his house crying and pretended that it didn’t happen and continued dating that same girl until my sophomore year of college.

Then came my talk to my former teammate Vinny and his intervention that landed me in the hospital. It was a catalyst for great change.

Two weeks later I started to come out. First to my roommate and then more and more people. All of them were nothing less than supportive. One day I got up the courage and called Vinny. “Vin, I really have to tell you something and I am scared it means I will lose you, but I can’t keep living this way.”

Vinny listened to me babble and confirmed that nothing would change. He would never think of me as less of a teammate or friend and would still do everything in his power to support me. He ended the conversation by asking: “Do you need me to help you find a boyfriend? I have some people in mind?”

I decided to open up to my entire tennis team from high school. Their reactions mimicked Vinny’s. This support made me feel loved, included and accepted. Most of them even connected the dots asking whether this is what made me so depressed.

Greg Nelson with his fiance Trevor Nykamp.

I now return to my high school every fall to be the assistant coach of the boys tennis team as an openly gay man. I have the support of the school system, and most importantly my coach and my players.

I look forward to being a voice for those who feel voiceless. I am striving to normalize LGBTQ athletes. I want to continue to be there for people who are struggling and can confide in me and know that I will be able to understand and offer guidance in any way.

I most importantly look forward to getting married to my fiance, Trevor Nykamp, in October 2021. I met him while I worked at Starbucks and noticed him studying for the MCAT. I told my co-worker I thought he was cute. My co-worker then told Trevor I thought he was cute and wanted his number to go on a date. Trevor said yes and we met for coffee.

He then proceeded to friend-zone me for three months because we related to each other so much that if we broke up he did not want to lose our friendship, but I was persistent. Fast forward and I proposed to Trevor in January 2020 in Chicago where we will be living once I graduate.

Trevor gives me everything I have always wanted. He makes me feel safe, supported and lets me know I have a sense of belonging and purpose that I was searching so hard for.

Greg Nelson, 24, graduated from Michigan State University in May of 2018 with a bachelor’s in Kinesiology and Health Promotion. He is attending Grand Valley State University for a Masters in Public Health. He will be graduating at the end of April and will continue his research and work with the LGBTQ community. In high school he was on his tennis team and played intramural sports at Michigan State. His goal is to help minorities or those who believe to be voiceless find their voice and help them to better themselves both physically and mentally. He can be reached on Instagram @gergnelson2014 and email [email protected]

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim ([email protected])

Check out our archive of coming out stories.


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