Dan Woog was at home Sunday night watching The Beatles retrospective on CBS when he received a message from Jim Farnen, a vice principal at Staples, where among other positions Woog is the boys soccer coach.
Farnen’s note was a link with a simple message: this might interest you.
The click took Woog to the New York Times’ story breaking the news that Michael Sam, who just completed his final season for the Missouri football team and is considered a likely mid-round pick in the forthcoming NFL Draft, was coming out publicly as being gay.
“I thought it was great,” said Woog, who said he had been predicting the circumstances and scenario for the past 20 years.
It was about two decades ago that Woog made the same daring move, coming out that he was gay in his weekly column for the Westport News.
Woog was less prominent a figure than Sam is, but the degree of enlightenment and acceptance then was far behind compared to the current environment.
“The lead up was hard; when would I do it, how would I do it,” Woog recalled during a telephone interview Monday morning. “The time in my life was right. Once I decided it became fairly easy and then there was no looking back. After I wrote it there were no qualms or worries.”
Woog said that having grown up and assuming a position of prominence in Westport made his path a little smoother.
“I did it in a liberal, progressive community,” Woog said. “People knew me.”
Given the landscape at the time — I grew up in Westport and Woog is both a friend and was my soccer coach for one summer season when I was in junior high school — his bold move did not create the ripples one would assume.
“Whatever negatives went on, went on behind my back,” Woog said. “If I’m willing to do this and put my face to this, I’d be ready for people to talk behind my back. Positively, it made me a better coach. It made me more open. It took away whatever wall there was between me and my players. They saw me as a more honest person.”
Woog has since become a prominent figure — he appeared on BBC Radio Monday afternoon to discuss Sam — in helping to raise awareness on the subject, with a pair of groundbreaking books; as the chairman of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender committee; and locally as the founder over 20 years ago of OutSpoken, Fairfield County’s gay youth support group.
Sam’s declaration has led to great speculation about what will follow, with some pundits predicting he will be drafted lower now that he is out.
“I disagree 100 percent,” Woog said. “There are 32 teams. At least one of them wants to be the Brooklyn Dodgers. They will want to for many reasons. It’s the right thing to do and the right time in history. He’s a legitimate prospect.”
Woog then referenced Minnesota Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer, who has been accused by the team’s former punter, Chris Kluwe, an outspoken proponent for gay marriage, of making homophobic comments.
“For every Neanderthal like the special teams coach for the Vikings, there are forward-thinking people who realize this is 2014 and there is an opportunity to do the right thing,” Woog said. “I think there’s far more than one team.”
Woog offered some interesting insight for those who feel we have progressed to the point it is unnecessary for gay people to come out and declare their sexuality.
“Every time any male talks about a girlfriend or a wife they are declaring their sexuality,” Woog said. “Every time on TV there is a shot of a girlfriend or wife cheering, a male athlete is coming out as straight. This is as important for the straight community.”