Jamie Kuntz started to tear up when he was told that he had been dismissed from the North Dakota State College of Science football team on Sept. 3; in the freshman linebacker’s mind, he had done nothing wrong.
But two days earlier, Kuntz’s coach, Chuck Parsons, had pulled him off the team bus and asked him about a “distraction” that had occurred in the press box during the Wildcats’ blowout loss to Snow College during the Mile High Shootout in Pueblo, Colo.
By the end of the day on Sept. 3, Kuntz was packing up his locker and he believes it’s because of his sexual orientation.
Kuntz, 18, had been injured much of fall camp and had only practiced a couple days prior to the trip. So, the coaching staff asked him to film the game from the press box. While in the press box, Kuntz invited his 65-year-old boyfriend, who lives in Colorado, to join him to watch the game. During the second half of the 63-17 blowout, Kuntz took a minute away from the camera to kiss his boyfriend. The kiss was caught by some of Kuntz’s teammates and word started to spread.
Up until that point, Kuntz had hidden the fact that he was gay.
“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.'”
Kuntz eventually came clean with his coach when the team got back to Wahpeton, N.D., and apologized for lying. He said he expected a punishment, but didn’t think he would be dismissed.
“I asked him if I could get a suspension or any extra conditioning because I thought it was a little rash for him to be kicking me off for this,” Kuntz said. “And he said, ‘Um, no. We just decided it’s too big of a distraction.’ So, I didn’t want to bring [the kiss] up. You’re not going to tell the truth anyway. I don’t know if he’s homophobic. I can’t tell in his heart, but what happened, in my experience, I was getting cheated.
“To be honest, I thought he was going to kind of leave the door open for it to be my decision, what I wanted to do. But he said I was too big of a distraction to have on the team still, so I just grabbed my stuff and left.”
Parsons gave Kuntz a letter outlining the reasons for his dismissal and cited the school’s player’s manual. In the letter, he wrote: “Your actions on the evening of 9/1/2012, while representing NDSCS and the NDSCS football program, reflected poorly on the program. Your decisions and conduct on the night in question clearly fall into the “Conduct deemed detrimental to the team” category. Your actions/conduct during the game was a distraction to your teammates who were looking to the press box as the game was being played. This decision was arrived at solely on the basis of your conduct during the football game and because you chose not to be truthful with me when I confronted you about whom else was in the box with you. Any conduct by any member of the program that would cause such a distraction during a game would warrant the same consequences.”
Kuntz, who is from Dickinson, N.D., acknowledged that the kiss was more than a “peck” but said it wasn’t a “hardcore makeout session.”
“I still had to film the game,” he said.
And Kuntz had a good reason for initially lying. His sexuality was still largely a secret. With the exception of a couple close friends, Kuntz hadn’t told anyone he was gay, not even his mother. He said even if he had wanted to discuss his sexuality with the NDSCS football team, he never felt comfortable doing so because of jokes and comments his teammates made about homosexuals on a daily basis. But what was worse, Kuntz said, is that he was forced to tell his mother about his sexuality because he didn’t want to lie about why he had left school.
“It was awful,” Kuntz said of coming out that way. “Especially being a football player and trying to make a name for myself. It was one of those things where I wanted to do it on my own time, not when all this happened.”
Attempts to reach Parsons were unsuccessful. Instead, the school maintained in a statement that Kuntz, who was celebrated by the school when he chose NDSCS, a junior college that plays in the Midwest Football Conference, despite a scholarship to play fullback at North Dakota State, was dismissed for a violation of team rules and nothing else. The school also offered to honor Kuntz’s scholarship, but Kuntz declined.
“Jamie Kuntz is no longer enrolled at the North Dakota State College of Science because he voluntarily withdrew,” the statement said. “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 setforth below.”
The football team rules state that lying to coaches is a dismissible offense.
Still, Kuntz said he believes he was dismissed because of his sexual orientation. He claimed players on the team had committed infractions such as underage drinking and fighting, which he considered more egregious offenses, and were not dismissed.
“To be honest, I would have rather had coach Parsons just say, don’t do this again,” Kuntz told Yahoo! Sports. “[Say], when we go on road trips, you can’t be in contact with anyone other than your family. I mean, there’s things he could have done that I would have rather had done. Now that it’s happened, I’m embracing it, but I’d rather be on that team working really hard toward a bigger school.”
Kuntz also said he didn’t think his boyfriend’s age had anything to do with it and that if he had been seen kissing an older woman, “it would have been one of those things where I would have been congratulated on it.”
Kuntz said he thought about bringing legal action against NDSCS, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. Now, he’s just worried about what the story and the dismissal might do to his football future. He applied to the NCAA Clearinghouse and said he’s going to reach out to a few FBS schools about becoming a preferred walk-on. He said Washington, Colorado and Minnesota are among his top choices and, according to an article in The Dickinson Press, he did receive interest from Minnesota coming out of high school.
“Usually the players at D-I schools are from bigger cities and they’re open to more things,” Kuntz said.
“I think [being gay] might draw some schools away from me, obviously, but some schools might be interested. Whatever school I go to, people are all going to be following my story and it’s going to bring a lot of things — positive and negative — but there’s at least one D-I school out there that’s willing to take a chance.”