Bruce and Ginger Hart of Blue Springs awoke on Nov. 24, 2007, to find a note from their son on the nightstand. It said he needed to talk to them.
Alex Hart, then 19, was terrified to divulge the secret he’d painfully kept since fifth grade. But ultimately he had embraced his sexual orientation after years of denial.
After a short conversation, the Harts left for a Missouri football game at Arrowhead Stadium. Alex tried to hide what had taken place hours earlier, blending in with the other Tigers fans. But this was the first game he had ever gone to where his parents knew he was gay.
Nearly seven years later, Hart watched as one of his favorite players, former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, told the world that he too is gay. Sam is now positioned to become the NFL’s first openly gay player.
“I felt overwhelmed with excitement,” Hart said. “It was just such a groundbreaking thing. In the NFL, the sport where guys just hit each other as hard as they can and try to break each other’s bones, now has someone who is gay as the face of the sport.
“It’s ” he paused, “incredible.”
Underneath though, Sam’s announcement led Hart to reminisce on what it felt like when he had to hide his sexual orientation, and to see his family disapprove.
“It made me happy to see him say it so openly and without fear, because it has been so hard for people before him,” Hart said.
Hart, like Sam, was the first.
From 2009-10, Hart was the first openly gay student body president at William Jewell, a college with Baptist roots. Some students scoffed. But then, there was Phi Gamma Delta. There, Hart found his niche and surrounded himself with his fraternity brothers, who stood up for him.
One night in particular stands out in Hart’s mind.
A couple of Hart’s fraternity brothers were wrestling around in the front yard when members of the fraternity next door interrupted them. They were yelling homophobic slurs about Hart, saying that his fraternity brothers were also gay because they associated with him.
“I’ve never had anything specifically said to my face in a personal way, but they would go and attack my friends,” Hart said. “Because of me. And it would hurt me, but also seeing how quick (my friends) were to jump in and defend me was pretty awesome.”
One of those friends was Hart’s college roommate, Ian Talbot. Hart described Talbot as his “rock” at William Jewell.
“I think it’s just allowed him to be who he’s always been and not trying to put on some kind of façade or a front to please whoever he was trying to please before,” Talbot said.
Back in Blue Springs, Ginger Hart and her husband, Bruce, were still reeling. In the year following that morning when she first learned her son was gay, she said she gained 40 pounds.
“I’m not proud of my reaction,” she said. “I never would have suspected he was gay in a million years. I was devastated, to be honest, but not for him. For me and Bruce. It wasn’t what we envisioned for us the day he was born.”
She has watched as Michael Sam’s father publicly grappled with learning the same truth about his son.In The New York Times
, Michael Sam Sr. said he needed to have a drink after his son told him he is gay. Sam Sr. would later say that he was “terribly misquoted.”
Either way, Ginger Hart says she can’t imagine having to go through her reconciliation on a national stage like the Sam family is.
It wasn’t until Alex Hart brought a man home for the first time that his mother fully understood. He saw a switch turn on in his mother’s eyes when she witnessed how happy he was. By the end of the weekend, she was kissing Alex’s boyfriend on the cheek.
“It dawned on me finally that all her reactions and how she struggled with it was just because she loved me so much,” Hart said. “She was just scared. She didn’t know. She didn’t know what it meant and how I could be affected by it, how other people would react and affect me by it.”
In August 2010, Hart moved to San Antonio to teach. It was there that his mother’s initial fears came to fruition.
Hart said he had to hide his sexual orientation to keep his job. He found a hub of acceptance through a local gay flag football league, much like Sam did playing for the Tigers.
Hart said the league included former college and professional football players who have since come out.
“I have met some very effeminate straight men and super masculine gay guys,” Hart said. “Now it is almost a pain for me to have to tell people that I’m gay because they ‘assume’ I’m straight because I’m not effeminate. I guess it’s part of the struggle with being something that is not obvious just by looking.”
On Sunday night, Hart watched the coverage swirling around Sam and texted his boyfriend, Cliff Parsons.
“We talked about how courageous it was and how we hoped it wouldn’t ruin his chances in the draft,” Hart said.
“He better still be drafted,” he added.
It turns out that Hart doesn’t have to search far to find his biggest competition for the title of Sam’s Biggest Supporter. His mother isn’t the same woman she was years ago. She is now his — and Sam’s — biggest advocate.
“(Sam) has so much support and love surrounding him from people he will never know,” Ginger Hart said. “He’s a hero to me, right now.”