By Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly
Kirk Walker, head softball coach at Oregon State University for 18 years, recently accepted an assistant coaching position at UCLA. Having spent 11 years at UCLA from 1984-1994, Walker will miss Oregon but is thrilled about returning to his alma mater. As OSU’s all-time winningest softball coach, with a 594-491 record, Walker definitely proved his softball coaching expertise. But Walker is more than just a remarkable coach — he’s also an outstanding leader and role model.
In 2005 Kirk and his partner Randy were in the process of adopting a baby. Through the adoption process, the couple had to register with a public agency. It was important to Kirk that his players learn he was gay directly from him, rather than through the adoption process. So he decided it was the right time to publicly come out. The reactions from the players and public were and have been nothing but positive. Walker is now one of two out coaches in Division I NCAA — the other being Sherri Murrell, head women’s basketball coach at Portland State University.
PQ Monthly recently had the opportunity to speak with Walker about his impact as a coach over the years and his thoughts on being an out gay coach in a sometimes homophobic sporting arena.
PQ: What will you miss most about Oregon and OSU?
Walker: Most definitely the people. Oregon is a great state and OSU a great university. I’ve made tremendous friendships personally and professionally that will be sorely missed.
PQ: What would you like your legacy to be with OSU and the players?
Walker: It’s important to create a program where athletes come and leave better prepared to succeed in the real world. That regardless of where we all come from and our differences, they’re able to focus and work together, united on common goals.”
PQ: What impact do you think you’ve had on the women you’ve coached?
Walker: I hope what they’ve gained from playing and being around me is my passion and conviction [to] live with integrity without needing to call attention to yourself.
PQ: What are the most life-changing aspects of becoming a parent?Walker: Everything. The sense of importance and world values shift when influencing and affecting the development of another human being’s life at such an early stage. Nothing is ever the same.
PQ: Have you had any particular challenges as a gay parent?
Walker: Honestly, I don’t know what it’s like to be a straight parent because I’m not a straight parent. But whether gay or straight, it’s the least of the issues.
PQ: You made history as one of the only two out coaches in Division 1 NCAA. What are your thoughts on being a role model in this way?
Walker: I’ve definitely evolved around this topic over the years since coming out. Early on, I felt a little slighted that my status as a role model is about something I had no control over: my sexual orientation. Over the last four years or so I’ve warmed and valued the opportunities of being an openly gay coach and the impact I can have. Being both gay and a Division 1 coach, I realized I have the ability to make a difference.
PQ: Do you find yourself being more vocal on gay issues than before you came out?
Walker: Absolutely, yes. But my overall focus is primarily on homophobia and bullying in sports. Redefining roles, how someone can be themselves.
PQ: Do you feel any pressure from the LGBTQ community to be more of a representative?
Walker: I’ve felt more pressure sometimes fitting into the role that gay activists want me to fill. I may not match where they are politically. I’m still an individual.
PQ: What do you think is the most difficult thing about being a gay male coach in the world of collegiate athletics?
Walker: Overcoming your own self restrictions and perceptions on how you’ll be viewed. I’m conscious about how my sexuality is perceived in my professional role. It’s my internal fears, more often than not, about being the right role model for everyone that concerns me — how I mesh that information into my professional world in an appropriate way.
PQ: What most excites you about returning to your alma mater, UCLA?
Walker: The biggest and most exciting part about coming home is that I spent 11 years here at UCLA; some of my closest friends are here. I’m exhilarated to be working with two of my best friends who are dear to my heart.
PQ: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Walker: I’ll be on the hunt for a national title on a yearly basis!