Weeks ago we heard about Adam McCabe. Some LGTBMedia were talking about a football player that had come out. We wanted to know more about his story, so we contacted him. We got surprised by his kindness. Adam is an example in sports, but he is also an example as an human being. The football player fights now against LGBTQphobia in sports. Do you want to read what he told us? Here it goes.
- If you had to explain how it feels like when you hide who you are to your coaches and teammates, how would you describe it?
Hiding my sexuality from my coaches and teammates was extremely difficult. When I had finally accepted that I was gay (which took me a while to understand and process) I did everything I could to hide it. It was this huge secret that I did not want anybody to know. It was a characteristic of myself that I was very ashamed of. I found myself in some very dark places, because I was always lying to my teammates and coaches about who I was. I was never honest with them and it felt as though I was lying to my family. When you are hiding your sexuality from your teammates, you are always on edge, always having to make decisions based on your secret. I was always calculating the things I said and the way I acted around my teammates. I never wanted to give them the opportunity to even have the slightest assumption that I was gay. I feared for the moment that a teammate would find out that I was gay. I thought that my sexuality could quite easily be the factor that would end my career or even end my place on the team. I felt extremely lonely and isolated during this time because I had nobody to speak to about my issues. There was nobody who I could relate to or be open and honest with. This really had a negative impact on me and I always appeared to be stressed.
- In your opinion, is it important that athletes come out?
I do think it is important for athletes to be “out”. More importantly, it enables them to be open, honest, and also flourish as there true selves. What has to be understood is that the sporting sphere is hyper masculine. Closeted athletes want to come out, but they are constantly reminded by fans, teammates, and coaches how difficult being gay and playing sports is by the language and actions they experience in sports. The main reason I came out, was for the fact I wanted to set an example to other closeted athletes that it is possible to be yourself, love yourself, and be a competitive or amateur athlete. We need more role models and examples of LGBTQ athletes at all sporting levels. It is important that younger generations can have role models and see an example of people like them flourishing in society. Every LGBTQ individual goes through a personal journey when “coming out”. For some this process is natural, for others this is much more difficult as it is filled with contemplation, stress, and denial. For athletes who are contemplating coming out, they are not only seeking the approval of their family, but their teammates, coaches, and fans. This is where athletes find it difficult to “come out”, because they do not want to upset these individuals in the sporting realm, or cause any unnecessary issues or awkwardness in the locker room. We have to let athletes find their way to coming out, as this is not something that one can be forced to do. For example, I never had a meeting with my teammates to “come out” to them. However, through my social media and every day life my teammates know that I am gay, as it is something I do not hide anymore. For other athletes, they may call a meeting with their teammates to let them know. Every individual is different and we must respect his or her personal process of “coming out”.
- In another interview you said “as a gay athlete your natural instinct is to hide this from your teammates, fans, and coaches” and we think you’re right. Confidence is an important part of sports. A team is like a family. Do you think that being not really comfortable could affect the performance of an athlete?
I can tell you from personal experience that it can and does affect your athletic performance. When you are supposed to be worrying about the game, tactics, and other things important to your athletic performance, instead you find yourself thinking about your sexuality, hiding it from others, and how you will ever be able to be your true self. Top-level athletes are known for being elite when it comes to mental toughness. They are able to handle the toughest circumstances, have great self-confidence, and believe in their abilities. When you begin to question any of these facets, your mental toughness begins to lessen. A lack of mental toughness and confidence can be detrimental to your performance. When you have to worry about things like your sexuality or how you will fit in, you lose focus on the main objective, which is your performance. When I was playing in Slovakia this is exactly what happened to me. For years I was able to put aside my anxiety surrounding my sexuality and focus everything on soccer. I told myself, when I am finished playing soccer I will start to be an openly gay man. I did not want it to affect my performance or deter my mental toughness. But finally in Slovakia I broke. I was on a team where nobody spoke my native language and I felt extremely alone. Because I could not speak to my teammates or connect with them, I found myself in my head and doubting myself. Instead of focusing on soccer, my thoughts were consumed about what I was hiding, how I felt like an outsider, and contemplating if I was ever going to be myself. It had a tremendous impact on my performance, as I would easily lose focus. I also lost a passion and love for soccer, which ultimately led to me leaving the team and returning home to the United States.
- Countries have improved their LGBTQ rights around the world, but homophobic comments are still accepted in society. In Spain ‘faggot’ is used to describe weak people and kids grow up with the idea of gay as a negative concept. How is this in your country?
These ideas and language are similar in the United States. And from a young age it is implemented in your mind that sports is about masculinity, being strong, buff, athletic, and powerful. We view being weak, slow, and small as being inferior and being less successful at sports. These themes are also mimicked in society through the mainstream media, our culture, and literature. This type of language is mirrored in our locker rooms and it immediately causes issues and turmoil for closeted athletes. Because there is a lack of LGBTQ athlete’s competiting at high levels, there is an assumption that being an athlete and being gay or a “faggot” is not possible. Furthermore, there is an assumption in our society that gay males are more feminine than other men. An athlete that is gay is assumed to be “soft”, “weak”, or “slow”, when in reality they are like any other athlete. However, this language and themes that are vulgurally used in a locker room or by fans can be damaging to the psyche on a closeted athlete.
- Sports means respect. Do you think teams should include strict rules about LGBTQphobia?
I do think teams and ultimately the leagues they play in should have rules and regulations when it comes to lgbtqphobia. This needs to expand beyond lgbtqphobia, to any kind of discrimination of race, religion, or sexual orientation. The beautiful thing about sports is that it captivates and connects people across the world. Sport is a common theme that people from across the world can understand no matter where they come from. Sport is the greatest unifying factor between people and it should be a sphere that respects all types of people. I think that teams and leagues need to make a bigger push and statement to universal inclusion and fining teams who do not respect these beliefs. Furthermore, there needs to be more education and exposure of under represented populations to teams and leagues in order for them to accept, learn about, and confront these issues.
- Is there any advice you could tell a teenager that loves football but is afraid to be himself with teammates?
I would tell a teenager or any athlete in this situation that you will be happier, more at ease, and much less stressed once you are out and open with yourself and teammates. I would also let them know that things are going to be tough, but at the end of the day your teammates and coaches will not judge you for your sexuality and will respect you for your honesty. At the end of the day, you share the same passion and love for sport as your teammates and they will rally around you for that simple fact. In many cases, teammates become much more cohesive once you are honest and open to them about yourself. Also, your teammates are not going to worry about your sexuality, they are going to focus on the sport, just as you should be. I would tell them that your teammates and coaches are going to love you for who you are, that they will support you, and that they are going to see you as the same athlete as you were before you were out. I would tell them that they are an extremely unique individual and that they should not be afraid to be different.
- And… What would you say to those who use homophobic chants during games?
Unfortunately in today’s society, there are always going to be people who have a negative attitude and perspective when they are confronted with ideas or people who are “different than them”. People tend to shy away from or speak negatively about things they do not understand or have not experienced themselves. As a minority group, LGBTQ individuals will always receive some sort of backlash because we are different from the majority of the population. During games, an athlete must focus on his responsibilities during the game and not on outside forces. Part of being a professional or high-level athlete is maintaining a strong mental toughness and being able to block out distractions. As an athlete you cannot let the negative comments of fans or opponents affect your performance. Unfortunately, it shows the negative characteristics of these individuals, but athletes must be prepared for these obstacles that come with sport.
For those who are using this vulgar language, I think it is extremely disrespectful. I challenge these people to think of their actions and the consequences they can have on an individual’s psyche. Although sometimes not out of hatred or malpractice, using such language can be so damaging to an individual. I always think of the golden rule, “treat others the way you would like to be treated” in these situations. These negative chants and language do not do any justice or help progress sports in any fashion. Using this type of language has a negative impact on players, fans, and the overall experience of the game and this language should be exasperated from the game.
- Now you’re a inspiration for athletes that havent come out yet. Are you planning actions to fight against LGBTQPhobia in sports?
It is great to be an inspiration and example to those who are closeted and fighting their fears. I definitely will be looking to use my platform to take actions against homophobia and lgbtqphobia in sports. Currently I am apart of some fantastic organizations who are looking to transform the landscape of sports. First, I am working with Ryan Adams from the TC Jacks in order to support LGBTQ soccer clubs around the United States. Ultimately we are hoping to create a US LGBTQ national team in order to represent the United States at international LGBTQ soccer tournaments. Also, Cyd Zielger of Outsports is leading the way in coverage of LGBTQ athletes and media. The work Cyd has done thus fare for LGBTQ athletes and sport is quite incredible. And last, the NSCAA behind Dan Woog is looking to implement LGBTQ inclusion education courses, that ultimately hope to inspire all coaches of every sport to learn more about LGBTQ athletes and how to be an ally to them. I think there are so many fantastic organizations out there to be apart of and we can all do our part in fighting homophobia and lgbtqphobia in sports. For my upcoming soccer season, I will be sporting the Stonewall Rainbow Shoe Laces in support of LGBTQ athletes .These are the same laces that were worn by Barclay’s English Premier League players in a statement for inclusion in sport. I think movements and progressive ideas like the Stonewall UK’s activation are a positive step forward for inclusion in sport.