An ex-professional football player “out”

Interview with Adam McCabe, an ex-pro football player

I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam McCabe and share his story. He played soccer at a semi-professional and professional levels in different parts of the world. Read more about what kind of issues he faced and troubles he had to go through, “hiding” his sexuality, teammates’ reactions, etc.

Here’s his story:

To begin, I want to thank you for this opportunity to share my story with you and the website. I hope my story, experience, and knowledge can help out others who need help and guidance.

I was born in Atlanta, Georgia but grew up in Northern Florida. Growing up, I played soccer for a team in Florida and in Georgia. I moved abroad to play soccer in England, Thailand, and then Slovakia when I was 19 years old. It has almost been two years since I returned back to Atlanta, Georgia and I am 25 years old currently.

I played soccer at a semi-professional and professional level in England (3.5 years), Thailand (6 months), and Slovakia (6 months).

In England I started out playing with a lower tiered team called Eccheshill United and the RIASA Academy. Eventually I was playing for the U23 and Reserve team for Bradford City. In Thailand, I lived in Bangkok and played with a local team in Bangkok. Last, I played for a team in Ziar nad Hronon (FK Pohronie) in the second division of professional football in Slovakia. Now I currently play for a NPSL team (a mix of amateur and semi-professional level) in Atlanta, Georgia.

Growing up, it was always my dream to play professional soccer overseas. All of my idols and favorite teams were located in Europe. Every young soccer player wants to play for the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, etc. The first time I went abroad to play soccer was at the age of 13. I traveled with my club team from Florida and spent three months in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I loved the soccer and cultural experience. Since then I have had the travel bug and knack of exploring and living in different places. Soccer was the vehicle that allowed me to do this. I also learned a lot about playing soccer at the highest level and what it would take to reach my dreams. From then on I was determined to do whatever it would take to play in Europe.

I came out at the age of 23 years old. So while I was playing soccer at a younger age, I was not out to my teammates. I did not really even think about my sexuality until the end of high school and beginning of college (around 19 years old). Soccer was the most important thing; it was all that I thought about. I lived, breathed, ate and slept soccer. And I was not going to let anything, like a relationship or my sexuality, get in the way of my goals and dreams.

With soccer, every locker room is the same. Whether in the United States, England, Thailand, or Slovakia, the banter and locker room talk is the same. The locker room is an extremely masculine realm, where discussions often surround women, sex, and bragging rights. When I finally accepted that I was different sexually than my teammates, it became hard for me to connect on a certain level with them. Especially in the locker room, I could not relate to the experiences they discussed, or describe my feelings for females because I simply did not have them. During these discussions I would remain silent, dreading the moment a teammate would call on me for my opinion or experience. I was in a very uncomfortable place at times, but I learned quickly to adapt, to have a few made up stories in my mind, and to act “like one of the guys”. Keeping my sexual orientation a secret was always on my mind, and I was constantly on my game to not let any sort of secret or slip up occur. None of my teammates knew about my sexual orientation and I did not tell any of them. During my time abroad, even though I had accepted that I was gay, I was still very ashamed, nervous, and scared to be this way and play a team sport.

I am honestly not sure if I was the only gay individual on my soccer teams. In all the places that I have played, there has never been an openly gay individual on my team. The major concern for LGBTQ individuals who participate in a team is their team’s reaction to their sexual orientation. They do not want to cause any awkward locker room issues or disrupt the chemistry of the team. Since soccer relies on 11 individuals on the pitch, any sort of bias or trust issues between teammates can affect the teams’ performance.  And you do not want to be the individual causing these issues, because this could result in you losing your starting position or even your place on the team. It is much easier and effective to blend in with the other guys for the sake of the team.

Homophobia in football is still a current issue. Depending on the country you play in or the club team you play for, the level of homophobia in the sport differs. Countries that are more developed and advanced socially have a better tolerance. And we are beginning to see a lot of the major soccer leagues have LGBTQ game nights, or partnerships with LGBTQ organizations in attempt to break down these barriers.

For example, an openly gay soccer player would probably love the possibility to play for a team like the Portland Timbers in the MLS.  At every single game you can see multiple LGBTQ flags spread throughout the crowd. I know that Portland is a very progressive city in terms of LGBTQ rights and acceptance. However, not all can be said for all soccer clubs. I know my experience in England and especially Slovakia, was different to that of the Portland Timbers. Soccer is seen as such a masculine sport in Europe. Also, there are not many (if any) openly gay male soccer players in Europe’s biggest leagues. So the fans are not accustomed to a gay male soccer player and these players are extremely frightened for the potential backlash they could receive for coming out. It is a difficult situation for all parties involved.

In today’s society sponsors want to make sure they seem ethical and moral in their decision-making. I was never involved in a situation where a sponsor did not want to support a team because they had an openly gay individual on the team. Also, I was never openly out while playing abroad, so sponsors would not have known about my sexual orientation. Either way, I have not heard of an instance like this in the major European leagues or in Major League Soccer (MLS). I think sponsors would take the stance of being all-inclusive or LGBTQ allies, rather than the opposite.

I was never told to hide my sexual preference while playing in the United States, Europe, or Asia.  However, as a gay athlete your natural instinct is to hide this from your teammates, fans, and coaches. The language that is used during practice, in the locker room, and on the pitch is extremely masculine and at times vulgar. I have heard teammates use homophobic language both in the soccer realm and in daily life. It causes you to really pay attention to your surroundings and debate every action as a closeted athlete. I was afraid to share my sexuality based off of what I had heard my teammates say. Whether joking or not, these words are cemented in your brain and they shape the way you act towards and around your teammates.

Similar to above, my experience thus far has been very limited being an openly gay male soccer player. While I was playing abroad I was not openly gay, so I did not receive any sort of threats while playing or in my personal life.  However, I always thought it would be the best for my playing career to stay closeted. Thus far, I have not been subject to any sort of threats or insults while playing in the United States.

I am currently in the United States, playing for the Georgia Revolution out of the NPSL league. I would say the level is between amateur and semi-professional.  This past season with the team I was nominated as the Defensive Player of the Year. I have really found a home with the Georgia Revolution and I enjoy playing with them. For work, I coach cross-country and soccer at a private school in Atlanta. I am also a model for an all-inclusive agency, E.I. Models. This agency is very special because they are breaking barriers in the modeling industry, by accepting models of all shapes, sizes, and genders. E.I. Models is the first known equal opportunity agency in the United States.

I encourage all of your readers to follow the work of Ryan Adams out of Minnesota. Ryan is beginning to pave the way for a US LGBT national team that will represent the United States at international LGBT sporting events. You can follow them US LGBT Soccer (Facebook) and US LGBT Soccer (Twitter).

Last, I hope my story and experience can help out individuals along their journey. For anyone who would needs help, guidance, or a friend to talk to, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Adam McCabe currently live in Atlanta, Georgia and plays soccer for the Georgia Revolution. You can find him on Facebook, Instagram (@shakiro_850), or contact him by email at: adam.mccabe850@gmail.com

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