Former British soccer player Thomas Beattie has come out as gay, opening up about the stigma that made him feel he had to hide who he was while playing the sport.
The former pro player, who retired in 2015, told ESPN he spent years of his career feeling empty and lonely. This was despite his team scoring several high-profile wins.
“I’m usually super social, but I was becoming antisocial to avoid scenarios that might expose me,” the 33-year-old recalled.
“This was a pattern that had also taken me all over the world. I lay in my bed and stared at the ceiling, feeling like the loneliest lad in the world.
“Tears welled, a paralyzing flood of emotions engulfed me. My whole body was burning. My arms tingled and my heart raced, like a thousand beats per minute.
“I prayed that I would wake up and this would all disappear, although deep down I knew I was praying for the wrong thing.”
But he went on, “Five years have passed, and I’ve never been more comfortable with who I am. Not pieces of me, but all of who I am.
“My name is Thomas Beattie. I’m a brother, son, friend, former professional footballer, entrepreneur and annoyingly competitive lad. I’m a lot of things, and one of them is gay.”
Thomas Beattie says coming out never felt like an option while playing
Beattie also goes on to explain how stigma made him feel it was impossible for him to come out, despite more and more queer celebrities visible in other industries.
“Being gay and having a career in football never felt like an option,” he confesses.
“Society told me my masculinity was linked to my sexuality, something we of course know is a false assumption. But I felt as if I couldn’t be a footballer and accept who I was.
“Everything around me suggested these two worlds were pure enemies, and I had to sacrifice one in order to survive.
“It doesn’t feel that way in other industries. In music, we love Freddie Mercury and Elton John. It’s accepted in film. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, is gay, and these things are all okay.
“But in football, there’s still fear a gay teammate might disrupt the team environment.
“Sometimes it’s brushed away, like homophobia isn’t an issue in football anymore. Obviously that’s not true if there are so few examples young kids can look to as role models.”
Beattie said he’d received “amazing” support from his former teammates, who he says knew he was still “the same lad”.
Injury ended Beattie’s career after 10 years in professional leagues
Thomas Beattie’s soccer career began in the UK and spanned over 10 years in pro leagues across England, America, Canada, and Asia.
However, a serious head injury during a match ended his football career at age 29. He currently works in business and as a model in Singapore.
“I call the injury ‘my beautiful nightmare.’ The beauty that came out of it was an epiphany that I no longer had to run from myself,” he said.
Ultimately, Beattie wants other closeted athletes to be honest and open and know they’re not alone.
“It’s impossible to say there aren’t perhaps many other footballers like me — living in silence, just like I did. If they are reading this, know I am here and can be a source of support.
“I hope in time these things no longer have to be spoken about.
“I realize to get to that point, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.
“But I would love to be part of that conversation, and have a seat at the table.”
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