A Gay Athlete’s Journey: The Difficult, 'Dual Life' of Geneva's Todd Searcy
Part 1: Geneva Hall of Fame and Fighting Illini football player Todd Searcy led a life of success and secrecy.
- Author's Note: Todd Searcy, football star and honors student at Geneva High School from 1979-1983, decided to divulge the story of his journey as a gay athlete because he wants to share what he has learned about how to cope and survive, with the hope of helping others. This is the first of a three-part series. —Martha Quetsch
In 1982, Searcy led one of coach Jerry Auchstetter’s best football teams in tackle points and sacks, as Geneva went undefeated in its regular season and won its first two playoff games by scores of 49-0 and 42-0 before falling in overtime in the semifinal game to the eventual state champion.
Thirty years ago, Searcy was named the first-ever Little Seven Conference Most Valuable Player.
Despite his athletic prowess, Searcy knew as a high-school junior and honors student that he was not attracted to girls in the same way his friends were. But that didn’t mean he lacked typical friendships with male teammates and classmates.
“We had a good group of guys and girls we hung out with,” said his friend and former GHS teammate, Jeff Hill.
Hill said he and Searcy, along with other teammates, would watch The Warrior on weekends to gear up for games. Basically, Searcy led a regular teenage athlete’s life. But he knew he was different, and he felt frustrated. He hoped he was wrong about his sexual preference.
“I thought it was just a phase,” Searcy said.
After being aggressively recruited by several Division I teams, Searcy signed a full-ride scholarship with the University of Illinois, where he played from 1983 to 1987 and “was just totally in the closet,” he said.
“I thought, ‘I’m not coming out,’ ” Searcy said.
He said he was afraid of what he perceived to be closed-mindedness and conservatism on the part of fellow college team members as well as his friends and family back home in Geneva.
Like his high school friends, his college classmates and teammates had no idea he was homosexual, which perplexed him.
“I always defended (gay rights) so that’s why it surprised me that no one thought I was gay,” Searcy said. “I guess I don’t have any of the characteristics people expect.”
Indeed, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound linebacker and offensive tackle was “all-man,” as society saw it. He wished he were what others thought he was.
“For me it was very frustrating. I thought, ‘Is there anything I can do not to be gay?' ” Searcy said.
He tried to convince himself that he was bisexual rather than homosexual. The pressure to conform was tremendous.
“All this is built up. I’m a football player, I’m from Geneva,” he said.
When Searcy was playing football at U of I, the first gay bars opened in Champaign, and more gay students were coming out of the closet. Still, he kept his sexuality a secret.
“I couldn’t tell anyone. I would have lost my scholarship, there was no doubt,” Searcy said.
Searcy wanted to continue playing football to ensure that he attained a degree. For that reason, he saw his football career as a business, he said. But college football is a difficult business, no matter who you are or what your sexual preference might be.
“I don’t think I was ever sworn at so much in my whole life,” Searcy said. “I punched my line coach once. He was trying to motivate me by smacking me on the side of the head. I just reached my breaking point.”
Searcy lettered three years for the Fighting Illini, on the roster for both the Rose Bowl in 1984 and the Peach Bowl in 1985. He earned Player of the Game awards against Iowa in ’84 and against Nebraska in ’85. In addition, he excelled academically, graduating in 1988 with a 3.95 GPA in business marketing.
In the shadow of his success at U of I, Searcy led a “dual life,” he said.
“I would leave my college friends after a night out and they were asleep, and go to the gay bars,” Searcy said. “I literally was like a double agent.”
But he grew tired of keeping the secret.
“I got sick of planning five steps ahead to prevent people from finding out,” Searcy said.
- The second segment of this three-part series, “Health Crisis and Coming Out,” will look at the circumstances that led Searcy to reveal his sexual identity to his family.
- Part 1: A Gay Athlete’s Journey: The Difficult, 'Dual Life' of Geneva's Todd Searcy
- Part 2: A Gay Athlete's Journey: Todd Searcy's Decision to 'Come Out'
- Part 3: A Gay Athlete's Journey: Todd Searcy Tackles AIDS