A former North Dakota college football player alleges he was kicked off the team not for lying as the official letter of dismissal he was given says, but because he kissed his 65-year-old boyfriend in the press box at a game.
Jamie Kuntz, a now former student of North Dakota State College of Science, was not playing in the Labor Day weekend game when his team faced Snow College in Pueblo, Colorado, because he had recently suffered a concussion — instead, he was tasked with filming the game from the press box, where he had been joined by his boyfriend. Kuntz’ team was losing rather badly. Kuntz was bored, he said, and so kissed his partner. A few of his teammates saw the kiss.
NDSCS Head of Football Chuck Parsons later confronted Kuntz about the incident.
“He pulls me off the bus to talk to me and he said, ‘What was going on in the press box?’” Kuntz told Yahoo! Sports. “So I was like, ‘What are you talking about? I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I was playing stupid. And he goes, ‘People said that you were distracting them the whole game.’
“At that point I kind of knew, but when he said the whole game, I felt like he was trying to put the loss on me. When you guys lose by 40 points, there’s no way a distraction like that is going to throw a whole team off in the second half. So, when he said that, I was like, ‘Oh nothing, it was just my grandpa up there with me.’
So, Kuntz lied about the incident, saying the man was his grandfather. He also denied being gay. On the bus ride back to NDSCS, Kuntz sent some messages over Twitter that alarmed his friends into thinking he might be suicidal. They called the police. The police later determined that Kuntz was not at risk. After this, Kuntz says he sent a text message to his coach, coming clean about the incident and confirming what had really happened. He also apologized for lying.
On September 3, Kuntz was called into Parsons’ office whereby Parsons gave Kuntz a letter of dismissal.
Dan Savage writing for The Stranger has seen the dismissal letter. Both the letter itself and what Kuntz says the NDSCS Head said to him are quite interesting:
“He said he didn’t care what people did in their personal lives,” recalls Kuntz, “but it was a big mistake to do that on a football trip. I said, yeah, I made a big mistake and I apologized again for lying. Then he handed me a letter and said he was kicking me off the team because what I did was ‘detrimental’ to the team and I was a ‘distraction.’”
The letter, which Kuntz shared with me, is signed by NDSCS Head Football Chuck Parsons. It reads in part: “The head coach reserves the right to dismiss any team member for any conduct that is deemed detrimental to the team. This includes, but is not limited to, any criminal charges or convictions; violations of school policies, NDSCS athletic policies, or NDSCS Wildcat Football policies… Lying to Coaches, Teachers, or other school staff [constitute a violation].” The letter continues: “This decision was arrived at solely on the basis of your conduct during the football game… and because you choose not to be truthful with when I confronted you about whom else was in the box with you.”
That Kuntz was deemed a “distraction” may suggest this goes beyond that he had lied. The fact that Kuntz was dismissed from the team for this apparent misdemeanor rather than just disciplined also might suggest a bias, especially when squared with the fact that other teammates have, according to Kuntz, done far worse:
Other members of the team, according to Kuntz, have been caught drinking, a violation of team rules; one member, a minor, was detained by the police after being found in a 21-and-over club. Some members of the team have “criminal charges and convictions,” according to Kuntz, both misdemeanors and felonies. Another player had a house party that was shut down by the police in Wapheton.
“Nothing happened to him,” says Kuntz. “He’s still on the team. He played on Saturday. I don’t feel that I should’ve been kicked off the team for this. It was a kiss. It was a mistake, but it was just a kiss. We weren’t making out.”
NDSCS has now responded to the incident.
After news of the incident spread, NDSCS on September 11 issued an official statement, saying:
“Jamie Kuntz is no longer enrolled at the North Dakota State College of Science because he voluntarily withdrew. While a student at the college, Kuntz was a member of the football team. Prior to his withdrawal, he was dismissed from the team for a violation of the football team rules, which are set forth below.”
The rules, which you can see here, do include “Lying to Coaches, Teachers, or other school staff.” The school has so far refused to comment on why other players who apparently violated the rulebook’s more serious stipulations–such as “Criminal Violations”–have not been dismissed.
However, drawing conclusions from this incident is complicated by several factors, not least of which is the age gap between Kuntz and his partner. While, at 18, Kuntz is amply over the legal age of consent, the ghost of the Penn State scandal may well have played a part, something that commentators Dan Savage and Cyd Zeigler, the latter of OutSports, have also mentioned.
This, to be clear, is not to suggest any wrongdoing on the part of Kuntz’ partner, or to excuse any homophobia if there was such, but rather to say that in order to discern if their was any anti-gay feeling, a great deal of factors would have to be considered.
What may be of interest is that prior to this incident Kuntz was not out to his family or many other people. With this perspective, Kuntz’ lying about the incident to his coach does not seem as straightforward as simply trying to dodge getting into trouble and rather more symptomatic of a fear over facing anti-gay sentiment if he did come out. Indeed, Kuntz is quoted as saying that he only came out to his mom because of this incident.
Due to the tangle of threads in this story I do not feel as comfortable as some in portioning out charges of homophobia, but what I can say is that it seems sad the administration would not use its discretion — apparently used before to not throw out other members of the team who had done far worse thank Kuntz — to consider the circumstances around why Kuntz might have lied about the incident. This case also speaks to the wider issues surrounding sports and homophobia where gay teammates may feel unable to be honest about their sexuality for fear of how their team might react.
As noted above Kuntz has now left North Dakota State College of Science and is currently back home with his mother. He still plans to follow his dream to play professional football.