Bree Horrocks

Women's Basketball Andrew Maraniss

Behind the Dores: Bree Horrocks

Senior Purdue transfer eyes career in psychology, public health after Vanderbilt

If things had gone as Bree Horrocks had planned, the senior transfer from Purdue would be playing her last season of college basketball at Vanderbilt before embarking on a professional hoops career. But a litany of injuries, including a blood clot that has sidelined her for the first month of the season, have caused her to reevaluate her career plans. The first openly gay female Division 1 athlete, Horrocks has an interest in psychology and public health and sees a more meaningful future ahead.

I've had two severe ankle sprains that keep you out a couple of months. I had knee surgery in December 2016 and then I turned around a month and a half later and had hip surgery. I have chronic back pain, three bulging discs and torn labrums in both hips. Plus, an appendectomy and arthritis in my knees, hips and spine.

When I completely severed a ligament in my knee, I played the next two months. I had a torn labrum for months before it got bad enough that I said something about it. I used to be great about playing through pain. But it's not the wise thing to do.

Sitting out with a blood clot has been hard. Of all my injuries it is the hardest because it's not painful and it's not an injury that I can feel or see.

It was difficult to handle the news at first. However, when I was told the statistics about mortality when dealing with a blood clot or being on anticoagulants to treat it, it just made sense to not play. They told me there was a 50 percent chance of mortality if I took a hit to the head. If I took an elbow to the head or the ball bounced off the rim really hard or I hit the floor, it could very well cause bleeding in my brain.

My role right now is all about vocal leadership and encouragement. Since my freshman year I've learned a lot about how to compassionately speak to people, how to meet people where they are. When I see a person having a hard time, I ask myself, what can I do to help them? What's going to make them feel better, what's going to boost their confidence? How do I help them be successful?

I was a psychology major for undergrad. I'm a very direct person and my freshman year I hurt a lot of people's feelings and I didn't care at the time. One of my core values is honesty. Authenticity and loyalty are the others. People would tell me I was harsh and blunt and I couldn't connect with people. I thought I was just being honest. Through academics I learned how the human mind works and about trauma and counseling, but it wasn't until I applied what I learned to this basketball setting and to this team that I had all these lightbulbs come on and I figured out how to speak to people.

Basketball has been a character-builder for me. What are you doing when everything seems to be going the wrong way?

Obviously, basketball has also been a means to an education because I'm walking away with two degrees and zero student debt.

In my eyes, pro basketball was what I was going to do when I graduated from college. I came to Vanderbilt thinking I was going to play professional basketball. Then, when all these injuries set in and the arthritis and the pain and the damage I've done to my body, I finally had the realization of my quality of life for my next however many decades I have left. I realized professional basketball was no longer in the cards. I settled into the fact that academics and scholarship is where I should live, and where I place my identity.

I want to get my PhD after this and then work with LGBT+ adolescents. There's a lot of mental health issues within the LGBTQIA+ population as a whole, but I truly believe if we can close some of the disparities in mental health care and access and treatment, then we'll have a better quality of life for these kids into emerging adulthood.

One of the major disparities is that we're dying earlier than the cisgender heterosexual population. We're not accessing health care because of minority stress theory and prejudice and discrimination and bias. I'm hoping I can help implement law and policy to change the way this population is treated in health care, in schools, in housing, and in jobs.

When people said I was the first openly gay Division-I revenue sport women's player, I was like, okay, that just doesn't make sense. It was 2015, so that didn't make any sense to me.

I didn't consider myself a pioneer at first, but I do now. After I publicly came out as a freshman at Purdue, I saw the positive impact I had on people in high school and college sports. I do consider myself a little bit of a trailblazer in that aspect. Also, I'm the first person in my graduate program to do a LGBT+-specific curriculum.

When I first came out, I was fired from my position as a high school coach. I coached a middle school and high school AAU team in Wisconsin and hosted a clinic, but after I came out, I lost that job. They were worried I would negatively influence the kids, and some parents were concerned about having an openly gay person around their children. That was extremely heartbreaking.

When I talk to LGBTQ athletes, most of the time it's just finding out where they are in their process of their identity. How open are they? If they are completely closeted, it's trying to find healthy coping mechanisms to manage everyday life when you're not living your authentic life. Can you imagine trying to be someone you're not every day? It's extremely exhausting. And add on that being a collegiate or high school athlete with the days that we have.

For someone who is already out, but just with a small group socially or just with their family, it's about navigating their life as a partially out person and how they can have a better quality of life if they don't want to be open to everyone. A lot of it is also managing bias or stereotypes, especially in men's sports. The negative connotations that are associated with terms like gay, things people say about transgender or gender-nonconforming people -- how can we positively address that situation on the spot so it doesn't happen again? How can we change the culture, how can we initiate positive conversations on this topic?

For the cisgender and heterosexual population, it's about watching your language and being inclusive. Language is a big determining factor if someone comes out to you at all. The statistics say that the LGBTQIA+ population makes up 10 percent of society. So, you can't assume that someone in your immediate radius isn't. When someone who isn't out hears a negative word about their identity, they're not going to come out when they could have had that positive interaction with you. Be well-intentioned about what you're saying. It's not always necessary to make a joke or to define someone in a way they haven't defined themselves already. Use their terminology, talk to people in the way that they define themselves.

Before you come out, you assume the worst of the worst is going to happen: that people are going to think of you differently, that people are going to treat you differently. You think people will walk on eggshells or not care at all and they'll say whatever derogatory things they want. But anecdotally from what I've heard from other athletes and my own situation, it is easier than what you would think. We do plan for the worst and not even hope for the best in coming out. We just assume the worst is going to happen.

I love going outside. I love Centennial Park because they do the Big Band dance. I don't dance but Bradley's Creamery ice cream truck goes to that, and that's where I want to be. And I love Musicians Corner. I also like the Shelby Bottoms Greenway, I like to longboard at the greenways. And I go to the animal shelters to just hang out with dogs and cats and play with them. I like parking across the pedestrian bridge and walking into downtown and getting Mike's Ice Cream. I love ice cream. My favorite flavor is anything with chocolate.

I love all the Marvel movies, all the DC movies, Avengers. Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite movie.

The goal is to be back on the court in early January. It's all about the medication I'm on. Once I finish it and get it out of my system, I'm safe to play. That date is Dec 28. I am coming back. I am determined. I've been hurt in some way or another for so long. I just want to play basketball.

Interviewed by Andrew Maraniss
Print Friendly Version

Players Mentioned