Gay former TCU football player says Tank Carder's comments instill shame, denial

It might be "just a word," but it can hurt. That's the message Vincent Pryor, a former 90's TCU linebacker and defensive end, sent Tank Carder in an open letter published Wednesday morning on Outsports.

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Photo by Rebecca Philp.

Photo by Rebecca Philp.

(Editor's note: This story contains language that may be offensive to some readers.)

It might be "just a word," but it can hurt. 

That's the message Vincent Pryor, a former 90's TCU linebacker and defensive end player, sent Tank Carder in an open letter published Wednesday morning on Outsports.

The letter is in response to Carder's anti-gay tweets, which have received backlash from the gay community.  

On Nov. 21, Carder responded to a joke tweeted by the Twitter account “Because I’m a Guy,” writing: “Unfollowed...your [sic] a faggot for that.” The tweet has since been deleted. 

In his letter, Pryor wrote that Carder's slurs instill shame and embarrassment in athletes, causing them to suppress their true identities.

"When I was an athlete at TCU, I lived in fear for many years over what would happen if my coaches or teammates learned that I was gay," wrote Pryor, who graduated in 1995.

The alumnus said he had never written an open letter like this before, but felt compelled to because he felt Carder's comments were not demonstrative of TCU's true culture.

Apart from anti-gay attitudes he experienced in the football program, Pryor said TCU has "always been a place that will welcome people based on the content of their character." 

"Tank's comments did not reflect my experience at Texas Christian University and I didn't want people to think he represents us all," Pryor said in a phone interview.

Pryor told TCU360 that during his time as football player at the university, his coach specifically asked if anyone on the team was gay. The coach said he would not "have anyone like that" on his team, Pryor said. 

Before his final game as a Horned Frog in 1994, Pryor finally came out to his TCU teammates.

Pryor is engaged to fellow TCU alumnus Alan Dettlaff, who taught social work at the university. During his time as a student, Dettlaff founded the TCU Triangle, the university's first LGBT support group.  

Carder's status as a role model is another reason Pryor felt the need to write the letter, he said.

"He might not want to be a role model, but when you play at that level, there are a segment of people who hinge on his every word," Pryor said of Carder.

The Cleveland Browns have since released a short statement on Carder’s language.

“These comments are certainly not reflective of the Cleveland Browns organization, nor do we condone them in any fashion,” Browns spokesman Neal Gulkis said in a statement, according to CBS Cleveland. “We have spoken with Tank and have made this very clear to him.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) released a statement Wednesday morning saying they were "speaking" with the NFL about Carder's comments.

"We're hoping for a positive resolution to this, one that makes a powerful statement about how the world of professional sports should be a safe space for all fans and athletes, regardless of their sexual orientation," Aaron McQuade, director of news and field media at GLAAD, wrote.

As of 9:00 p.m. Wednesday, the NFL had not released a statement regarding Carder's comments. 

The letter in its entirety can be read below:

Dear Tank Carder,

I was surprised and disappointed to read about the anti-gay remarks you made on Twitter. As an alumnus of TCU and a former football player, I know from my own experience that your words do not represent the culture of TCU. However, I am disappointed in the lack of understanding you’ve shown in the effect your words can have on young athletes who consider you a role model.

As a public figure and a representative of both TCU and the NFL, your words have power, especially for young athletes who happen to be gay. When I was an athlete at TCU, I lived in fear for many years over what would happen if my coaches or teammates learned that I was gay.

I feared that I would be kicked off the team or that my scholarship would be taken away and that my family would be embarrassed and ashamed. As a result, I hid in the background and didn’t play to my full potential because I was concerned that any attention I drew to myself would lead to further questions about my personal life and to rumors or ridicule that would ultimately have me removed from the team.

These fears led me to consider suicide on a number of occasions and it was only through the support of a few close friends that I developed the courage to tell my coaches and teammates that I was gay, just before the last game of my senior year. To my surprise, nearly all of my coaches and teammates supported me. In that final game on Nov. 25, 1994, with a share of the conference championship on the line, I felt free for the first time and I had the best game of my college career. With nothing to fear, I played to my full potential and had a record number of sacks (4 ½), helping my team earn a share of the conference championship and the opportunity to play in a bowl game for the first time in 10 years.

While this story may not seem relevant to you, it is. The reason I stayed in the closet was because of fear. I feared that there was nothing worse that could happen to me than other people finding out I was gay. I feared that if anyone found out that I was gay, I would lose everything. When you call someone a faggot, it isn’t “just a word.” It is a degrading term that implies there is something wrong with being gay. It implies disgust in something you don’t want to be associated with. And ultimately, it pushes every young athlete who may be struggling with their identity further into the closet, where they are surrounded by their fears and insecurities.

When you call someone a faggot, you reinforce all of the fears that I struggled with and other young gay athletes struggle with to this day. They will think that your views represent their teammates’ views and they will stay hidden and never realize their full potential as an athlete. Although it may be hard for you to understand, this kind of fear and isolation can be devastating, as it was for me for many years.

I was in the stands at the Rose Bowl game in 2011 when you were named defensive player of the game and helped to seal the victory for the Horned Frogs over Wisconsin, and I admire you as an athlete. But I hope you can come to understand the impact that your words can have on those who look up to you and the fear and pain your words cause.

Everyone who plays sports should be able to play without fear that their identity will affect how others view them as an athlete. I was fortunate to have that chance in the last game of my career. However, until you and others understand the fear and pain your words cause, there will continue to be many young gay athletes who never have that chance.

Sincerely,
Vincent Pryor
TCU Class of 1995

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