SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame tennis player Matt Dooley said the hardest person to tell he was gay was himself.
"Saying gay for the first time was extremely tough, almost choking, because you know your life will never be the same. That was the hardest part, to move forward from there," the 22-year-old senior said Thursday. "For me at least, every part of my being was like, 'No, no you're not.' But I talk about growing. You learn to accept what you can't change, and this is something I can't change."
Dooley says he has received "overwhelmingly positive" feedback since disclosing publicly on Monday in an article posted on Outsports.com that he was gay. He had told his coaches in August and his teammates on Sept. 16, the two-year anniversary of trying to commit suicide by overdosing on pills because he was struggling with who he was.
"That day I wanted nothing more than to escape the anguish of coming out to my family, my friends, and, in a way, myself," he wrote in the article. "Death was better than accepting — or revealing — that I was gay."
Even after the suicide attempt, he ostracized himself from his family for more than seven months because he feared their reaction and because he was still struggling to accept who he was. He wouldn't return his family's phone calls or emails and stayed away when they tried to visit, even though they were fully behind him when he came out.
"It's internal homophobia," he said. "Often time it's more of what you think of yourself."
Dooley's disclosure comes a matter of weeks after Missouri football player Michael Sam came out publicly, setting himself up to perhaps be the first openly gay player in the NFL. Jason Collins recently became the first openly gay player in the NBA and just signed a second, 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets.
Both have said they've received strong support.
Notre Dame's student handbook prohibits sex outside of marriage and the pastoral plan specifically states the university adheres to the Roman Catholic Church's teaching concerning homosexual actions and as a result, "Homosexual persons are called to chastity."
Dooley is working with the university's student welfare and development office to produce a video involving all teams at Notre Dame that will promote the You Can Play initiative, which fights sexual orientation discrimination. Members of PrismND, the first official organization dedicated to serving the gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students on campus, were pleased to see Dooley come out.
"It's hard to imagine something like that happening even a couple of years ago, receiving the support he did from students on campus and the administration," said Bryan Ricketts, co-president of PrismND, which started last year.
Gay students had sought recognition from the university for years. In December 2012, the university announced a pastoral plan that calls for a "spirit of inclusion" at Notre Dame that "calls all students to be friends and allies of one another" and led to the formation of PrismND.
Alex Coccia, student body president who served two years as president of the Progressive Student Alliance, a coalition of students, faculty and staff who pushed for rights for the LGBT community, said the university has made great progress in recent years.
"(The) question was: 'Are you an ally or are you not an ally?' The question now is: 'Why wouldn't you be an ally?'" he said. "That seems to be the sentiment among students. The vast majority of students are supportive."
Dooley said his teammates thanked him for being willing to share that with them.
"There have been no awkward moments. If it's possible, it's brought us even closer together," he said.
Coach Ryan Sachire said it's been business as usual with the team.
"The guys have said, 'OK, it's part of Matt, it's who he is, that's great. We love him. He's still a great teammate of ours and we're going to move forward as a team and not think about it,'" he said.
Dooley, who is from New Braunfels, Texas, said he's received support from around the country and hasn't heard anything negative. Still, he sometimes struggles with certain thoughts, such as the idea he may never have children.
"I've come a long way and I'm comfortable with who I am. But I also wanted to explain that I'm not perfect. I'm not completely free from any pain from it. It's still there. Still at times it just hurts. Certain issues are still just painful," he said.
The most important message he wants to get out is to let people struggling with their identities know that they will be accepted.
"The point of this was to let people know they're not alone," he said.