May 5, 2013

Steve Solloway: Gay athlete in Maine finds he's not alone after all

(Continued from page 1)

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James Nutter, a former University of Southern Maine baseball player, revisits the USM baseball field in Gorham on Wednesday. He is now in demand as a speaker about the gay experience in team sports.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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In high school action at Hadlock Field in 2007, James Nutter dives for second as short stop Matt Powers catches a pickoff throw.

2007 Telegram file photo/Gordon Chibroski

Additional Photos Below

Flash forward to the Wednesday after the Boston Marathon bombings. Nutter was back on the USM campus for a photo shoot for this newspaper. It was only his second visit after a November story detailing the struggle with his sexuality appeared on an Internet website called Cyd Zeigler Jr., the site's co-founder, wrote a powerful narrative. In his reporting, Zeigler talked to Flaherty, Athletic Director Al Bean and a teammate or two for the story.

Nutter's secret was out for months when he walked into the Costello Fieldhouse that morning. If he had apprehensions about seeing familiar faces, they vanished quickly. Wide smiles and happy-to-see-you hugs welcomed him. It was far from the reaction he once feared.

"I know," said Nutter, marvelling at the affection. "If I had been braver, I would have told my teammates and not gone through so much pain."

Today, Nutter cannot think of one teammate or friend or family member who turned their back on him when he came out.

Homophobic slurs were tossed around the USM locker room so casually when Nutter was there. He shared a four-bedroom suite at Upperclass Hall where many of the ballplayers lived on the Gorham campus. The locker room talk followed Nutter there. It wasn't constant and probably couldn't be called gay-bashing. It was a form of teasing or hard-edged kidding, but it wounded Nutter just the same.

He was too worried teammates were getting close to discovering his secret identity to understand they were simply joking.

USM is proactive in exposing its students to LGBT, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, issues. Bean, the longtime athletic director, is especially sensitive, organizing workshops for his coaching staffs and inviting speakers to talk to students about gay rights, which are really human rights.

None of that helped Nutter. Flaherty noticed the struggles. This was Bob Nutter's son, after all. "I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't find out what," Flaherty said earlier this year. "I'd ask myself what was I missing. I talked to my captains."

Flaherty had his own epiphany on gay athletes in a straight world more than 10 years ago. One of his players and an opponent got into a fight after a bang-bang play on the basepaths. The USM player was thrown out of the game.

Flaherty ran onto the field to confront of the umpire. Two fought, only one got tossed. Why my guy?

Because, said the umpire, your player called the other a (homophobic slur). So what? said Flaherty. Everybody uses that word.

Not in my games, said the ump. Flaherty never forgot. What's more, he thought on it. If he heard the jokes and slurs, he'd call out the offenders, telling them he didn't want to hear it. That same raucous kidding went on away from Flaherty's hearing.

Nutter was a closed book. No one could read him. Maybe no one tried. Partly in denial, sometimes hating who he was, Nutter looked for help. Whom could he trust? Who would stand by him?

His father would, had he only known. "I wished we could have talked more," said Bob Nutter, a star athlete himself some 45 years ago at Portland's Deering High. "We never talked. Not about who he was. I will say this. This has brought us all (mother Katherine, older brother Rob) together so much closer. I'm sorry it had to happen this way."

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Additional Photos

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James Nutter, at left, poses in May 2007, when he was Kennebunk's baseball pitcher.

2007 Telegram file photo/Jack Milton

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James Nutter sports his USM team uniform. Once fearful of revealing his gay identity, he is now a role model and mentor for others.

Courtesy of University of Southern Maine

Greg Monroe, Jason Collins
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Last week, the NBA’s Jason Collins, left, became the first active player in one of the four major U.S. professional sports leagues to reveal he’s gay. For Kennebunk’s James Nutter, it was “a great day.”

2013 file photo/The Associated Press

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