The Importance of a #5 Jersey: Division I Midfielder Chris Holmes Comes Out in Inspiring Essay

Hi — I’m Ross Duncan, head coach of the men’s soccer program at Central Arkansas University, and I’m proud to introduce Chris Holmes, and his amazing story.

For me, getting involved in the fight for LGBTQ inclusive athletic environments was a no-brainer.  Our program has been built as a character-first organization and that means that we evaluate the human being as a whole before making the decision to recruit a player into our team as a soccer player.  When I reached out to each of the 13 players we have involved in PDL and NPSL this summer to see if they would be comfortable representing as by Playing for Pride in the month of June, I was confident that we would have solid support amongst the group. What I didn’t expect was all 13 of them immediately responding with a resounding “YES”. No concerns, no hesitation.  That was a proud moment for me as a coach.

While my job here at the University of Central Arkansas is to coach the Men’s Soccer team and to try and win as many games as possible, I have a very clear perspective that there is way more to my role than on-the-field accomplishments. I want the young men coming through this program to take more than wins and losses with them. More than goals scored or trophies earned. I am fortunate to work in an athletic department where this approach is fully supported and the environment created by the administration allows us as coaches to run our programs in a way we can be proud of. 

One of the biggest honors our program gives out each year is who wears the #5 jersey. The #5 represents the five basic needs (water, food, health, housing, and education) and is given to our team’s “Human of the Year”, as voted on by his teammates. Our team also warms up for every game in a #5 jersey, representing the fact that advocating for basic human rights is a team effort, not an individual one. For the 2018 season, Chris Holmes was voted into that jersey by his teammates and he is one of the 13 that is representing us by Playing for Pride in the month of June.

As his coach, I couldn’t be prouder to introduce his story.

– Ross Duncan, Head Coach, Soccer, University of Central Arkansas

As a gay man and a Division-I athlete, I have felt what it’s like to be intimidated and scared while in an environment that is often pictured as hyper-masculine or anti-LGBTQ. As a member of the University of Central Arkansas’ men’s soccer team, I am proud to be representing Athlete Ally with my teammates. 

Growing up in a state that isn’t known for its acceptance of the LGBTQ community, I struggled with my identity. I had an idea of what boys my age were supposed to act like, and I played the role to the best of my ability. When I entered high school, I knew I was different, so I threw myself into school and sports. I thought if I was an incredible soccer player with a 4.0 GPA, then no one would suspect what was going on in my head. My overcompensation helped me develop an insatiable work ethic, which led to a scholarship to play college soccer. Entering college, I thought I could outwork my situation. As an athlete, I was confident in my abilities, but I felt like I had to hide a part of my life. I suppressed all those confusing and terrible feelings which ended up hurting my game. It brought me to a dark place and I felt like I had no one to turn to.

This summer coming to play Professional Development League (PDL) in Maine, I decided it was time to be my true authentic self and live my life without this heavy weight on my shoulder. Before I left, I reluctantly came out to my best friend and teammate, Niklas. I was already making plans to find new living arrangements because I was sure he wouldn’t want to be my friend anymore, let alone live with me. What I didn’t expect was his absolutely loving and supportive response. With each person I tell, I can feel myself being set free from the baggage I have been carrying. I am playing in a way that is different. My skills and athleticism haven’t changed, but my mental view of the game has altered. The part of me that was constantly worrying is being broken down. Now, when I am playing soccer with my teammate Daltyn, I feel like we share a closer bond and friendship now that he knows about the struggles I have faced. In the middle of this huge change, my coach texted me about Athlete Ally. I was ecstatic to realize I had a coach who was not only a great teacher of the game but who was also an ally to the LGBTQ community.

Eliminating homophobia and transphobia in sports is a step in the right direction for a more respectfully unified community. As part of the UCA men’s soccer team, I strive to make our locker room a safe space where everyone feels comfortable. I also intend to lead the team on and off the field to make sure that everyone knows that a UCA soccer player is someone of respect, acceptance, and good character. Realizing all that Athlete Ally does, I am happy to share my story to let other athletes know that anything is possible. As famous gay athlete Gus Kenworthy once said, “When you’re able to love and appreciate and take pride with yourself, that makes everything easier. It makes it easier to train, it makes it easier to be in the gym, and it makes it easier for every else to accept and love you”. You can be a college athlete, an All-Conference player, or even an Academic All-American, and your sexual orientation doesn’t stop you. 

– Chris Holmes, Midfielder, Soccer, University of Central Arkansas