[Alan Gendreau is] openly gay and 23, with a deep-seated confidence in his sexual orientation...The Orlando, Fla., native knew he was gay at a very young age. He came out to friends and family at 16, started dating boys in high school and had on-again, off-again relationships with men through college.
"When you know, you know," he said with a smile.
Gendreau has also long been a devout Christian, raised in a deeply religious household...Religion also played a powerful role on his team at Middle Tennessee State, but with a far different result from his hometown church.
The home of the Blue Raiders is located in Murfreesboro, Tenn., 30 miles south of Nashville. As the name would suggest, it is literally in the middle of Tennessee. A full 82 percent of the state’s population counts themselves as Christian, including almost two-fifths who are Baptist. The city of Murfreesboro was home to the torturous battle over a proposed (and ultimately built) Islamic Center in 2010.
The football team modeled its surrounded community. Bible study was well attended. Religious references were common. The team, like many others, had its own chaplain.
No one on the team cared that Gendreau was gay.
"Everyone just saw him as a football player," [team punter Josh] Davis said. "He was just one of the guys. The fact that he proved himself on the field, there was a respect for him. He's a good guy. He's a lot of fun to be around. With all the coaches and players, he had a good relationship."
In fact, the first time Josh Davis says he heard of Gendreau was from a teammate who made sure to fill him in on the team’s little secret: "Just so you know, we have a gay kicker." Davis, who is deeply religious and hopes to pursue a career in ministry, wasn’t fazed.
In two years as his teammate, Davis said he never once heard a derogatory comment made about Gendreau’s sexual orientation. Gendreau related the same experience.
"Off the field, some guy might throw a gay joke at him," Davis said, "but it was never intended to be serious, it was just guys being guys together."
Gendreau remembers one of those jokes vividly. During his freshman year, he was hanging out with some of his teammates late one evening when a linebacker observed that something they were all looking at was "so gay." Attention quickly turned to Gendreau.
"Hey man, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you," the linebacker said.
Gendreau brushed it off.
"Please, I don’t care," he said. "It's all good."
That jovial, carefree attitude endeared him to his teammates off the field. On the field, his performance sealed the deal.
Gendreau's ambitions run deeper than historic precedence. Studies show that suicide is the leading cause of death among gay and lesbian youth in this country, with an estimated 30 percent of gay youths attempting suicide.
"I've always been comfortable with my identity," Gendreau said. "I wanted people to know it wasn't an issue."
He remains a devout Christian who sleeps with a Bible by his bed, not bothered by what some would consider a mixed message of personal convictions. His family stands by his side, too. They include two brothers, Arthur and Aaron, who have overcome their own struggles with hemophilia to become successful soccer players in college.
"I love my son and I support his pursuit to play in the NFL," Cathy Gendreau said. "... He's every bit good enough to be there. He is that good, I promise you."
Alan Gendreau is training daily for a journey paved with hope and uncertainty History will eventually mark his progress. If it works out, Gendreau's NFL legacy will be measured in far more relevant terms than his field goal accuracy.