MSU cheerleader uses sport, teammates to overcome tragedy
When psychology senior Jacob Jean was approached by Outsports to write an article telling his life story, he immediately thought he didn't have one to tell. Upon some reflection, Jean was able to configure his thoughts into an article that laid his secrets out on a page.
At the age of 14, Jean had the courage to come out to his family. Jean's mom, Tammi Evans, was not only expecting the announcement, but was filled with relief once he finally got it off his chest.
"I knew my son was gay at 1 year old," Evans said. "So when he did tell me, it was no surprise. It was like, 'Thank god.'"
She was happy that his sexuality was out in the open and there was no sneaking around anymore or questioning things.
Jean's mom and dad both grew up with lesbian mothers, which made his coming out a welcomed moment, he said. The reason he believed he didn't have a story to tell was because of the outstanding support he received within his household.
"To myself, there was nothing inspirational about that," Jean said.
While the entire world doesn't support you, there's still support there out in the world, he said.
Jean came out to his longtime best friend, psychology senior Emily Kraszewski, in an art class during their freshman year of high school.
"He's the first person that came out to me," Kraszewski said.
Sitting in the back of the room, Jean wrote "I like boys" onto a slip of paper and slid it over the where Kraszewski was sitting. The two shared a tear-filled moment.
"If anything it made us closer," she said. "I didn't care at all, it didn't matter to me. I would've been friends with him no matter what because he's a really great person."
Four years after his coming out, Jean was sitting in class like he had every other day. It was May 2, 2013, and he hadn't talked to his boyfriend of 15 months, Zack, that day. Before he got the chance, one of his classmates announced that Zack had taken his own life just hours before.
"Not exactly how I wished it to happen," Jean said of the moment.
It was springtime during his senior year of high school, a time that is generally filled with excited feelings as students look to graduation and venturing onto college.
Jean said his boyfriend's passing sent him into a dark, depressed state and he spent his days wishing his sleep would last just a little bit longer.
During the 15 months Jean and Zack were dating, Jean, Evans and Zack had gotten very close, Evans said.
"I didn't know what to do for him," Evans said. "I can fix every boo-boo, every little thing. … This was something I couldn't fix."
What could fix him was his sport.
"Obviously, that type of situation never completely heals," he said.
Jean recalled he joined his local cheerleading program, Champion Force Athletics, about three months after he came out. Four years later, Jean was welcomed onto the MSU Cheerleading Team with open arms by the head coach Elyse Packard.
His masculinity was never challenged by joining cheerleading teams, for he said he didn't care what people thought of him or his sport.
"At a young age, you're taught that men have to masculine and you're going into a sport where it's seen kind of feminine, I see that as brave," he said.
Multiple factors kept him moving forward, such as being the first person in his family to go to college and the overwhelming support he received from both of his teams.
Writing out his story and putting it out there for everyone to see was a generally positive experience, he said.
"It's so inspirational," he said. "People, they don't have to say anything to me, they don't have to reach out to me, they don't have to be nice to me. They could just go on with their day, but they chose not to."
His intention was to help each group of people that he can identify with. He can reach the LGBT community, those involved in sports who have created a family bond and people who have survived suicide.
"We can't really prevent all of these traumas, but we can be there for people and let them know that we've been through a similar experience and try to express empathy and sympathy," Jean said.