DICKINSON, N.D. - A concussion kept Jamie Kuntz from suiting up for his first college football game. A kiss from his much-older boyfriend at that game led the freshman linebacker to be kicked off the team, he said.
North Dakota State College of Sciences in Wahpeton acknowledges Kuntz was disciplined by the team, but says it wasn't because he is gay. Football coach Chuck Parsons told Kuntz in a letter that he was removed from the team for lying about the kiss.
Kuntz, 18, and on a partial football scholarship, left the college in southeast North Dakota this month after his dismissal from the team.
"Football didn't work out, so there was no reason to stay," said Kuntz, who lives with his mother across the state in Dickinson.
Kuntz said he and his 65-year-old boyfriend were in the press box at the game against Snow College in Pueblo, Colo., over Labor Day weekend. Kuntz was videotaping the game for the team. His Wildcats were down by more than 40 points when "the kiss just happened," he said. The team would eventually lose 63-17.
"People around here aren't exposed to it," Kuntz said of homosexuality. "People expect gays to be flamboyant, not football players."
A teammate apparently saw the kiss and told coaches, Kuntz said. When Parsons confronted Kuntz on the bus ride back to North Dakota, Kuntz told him the man he kissed was his grandfather.
"I lied," Kuntz said.
Later, he felt guilty about lying and came clean to his coach.
In a Sept. 3 dismissal letter obtained by The Associated Press, Parsons told Kuntz he was being ousted from the team under the "conduct deemed detrimental to the team" category outlined in guidelines in the team's player's manual. Parsons specifically noted the manual's section on "lying to coaches, teachers or other school staff."
"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," Parsons wrote. "Any conduct by any member of the program that would cause such a distraction during a game would warrant the same consequences."
Kuntz doesn't believe he was dismissed just for lying.
"I know if it was a girl in the press box, or even an older woman, nothing would have happened," he said. "If it was an older woman, I would have probably been congratulated for it from my teammates."
School officials told the AP that they were investigating whether this was the first such instance of someone being kicked off the football team for lying.
John Richman, North Dakota State College of Science president, said other players have been kicked off the team for various reasons, though he couldn't say whether any before had been booted specifically for lying.
"I don't know of every single case where coach Parsons has had to discipline a young man," Richman said.
Other behaviour that the player's manual says could lead to dismissal includes criminal violations, fighting and repeated absences or tardiness to class. Richman said he believes Kuntz's case was handled "fairly and consistently" by the athletic department.
"I'm very confident that with the information that's been provided to me by our football coach, Chuck Parsons, by our athletic director, Stu Engen, that the thought process, the facts that were reviewed, have led them to an appropriate and the right decision in this case," Richman said Tuesday in an interview at the college.
Parsons recently joined the school's diversity council as a faculty representative, according to Sybil Priebe, an English and humanities professor who heads the council. Its programs include events for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. Priebe said Tuesday she had not heard much about the incident with Kuntz.
Kuntz said he told his mother that he was gay at the same time he told her he was kicked off the team.
"I'm struggling with it," said Rita Kuntz, choking back tears. "I love Jamie and I'm proud of him, but I know what the school did was wrong."
Rita Kuntz said she has accepted that her son is gay, but she believes he was taken advantage of by his boyfriend, who is more than three times her son's age.
Jamie Kuntz said he met the man online more than a year ago. Kuntz said the man, whom he would not identify, lives in Colorado and the two have met there a few times in recent months.
As far as his football career, Kuntz says he's not giving up. He may pursue it as a walk-on at another university outside North Dakota.
"I miss it already," he said.
Kolpack reported from Wahpeton.