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    An LGBTQ Athlete’s Story: Mark McCabe

    By John Chen–

    The amount of vile, degrading homophobic hate spewed and shouted from the terrace every game, everywhere, and non-stop gradually wore down Mark McCabe’s will, determination and desire to continue to play professional soccer in Europe.

    Growing up in soccer crazed Ireland, McCabe knew only one sport. Starting at the age of five, he had a soccer ball in hand or on foot anytime and anywhere, and everything else mattered little. McCabe was not just another kid who loved soccer; he was not only good, he was exceptional.

    McCabe played and practiced every available hour, more so than even the next most dedicated kid. His supportive parents drove him often times over 60 miles just so that he could play more games and gave in to his every soccer demand and need. Rising quickly through the ranks, barely a teenager McCabe competed at the highest amateur level in Ireland: the premiere division. Armed with a strong sense of goal and purpose, he was going to be someone special, a revered professional soccer player.

    His ascension did not go unnoticed. Scouts from Chelsea F.C., a professional soccer club in London, invited him for a trial period and everything went accordingly. At fourteen, McCabe was already a talented, driven developmental professional player in one of the most renowned soccer clubs in Europe, competing against the big boys: Arsenal and Manchester United. He was on the fast track to becoming not just a full pledged professional, but also a bona fide star.

    Everything seemed perfect. Everything moved on schedule. Everything, simultaneously, was also amiss. No one knew an internal storm raged inside McCabe and a battle of emotions, feelings and sexual desires began to chip away at his commitment and dedication to soccer. No one knew the once unmovable goal started to fracture at its very core.

    The usually cheery and happy-go-lucky McCabe sat in my living room, paused and stared into empty space, trying to—and not to—remember the confusion and anger he felt twenty years ago. Back then, the terrace (colloquial for fans in the stadium) regularly, routinely, and irreversibly harassed players with homophobic slurs, reducing gays to that of utter athletic incompetence and validating gays as helpless sub-humans who deserved no better than throwaway garbage.

    Such vile on the terrace went ungoverned and became widely accepted and even deemed as cool, a nature of the beast. For someone like McCabe who is the complete opposite—athletically gifted and accomplished—these constant and never-ending messages slowly and painstakingly eroded his confidence and self-worth. And eventually, they drove an impressionable adolescent into denial, delusion and even worse, self-loathing.

    McCabe did not want to be attracted to men, but he could not help but to be attracted to men. He tried hiding behind an unwavering soccer career because an athletic jock is a natural masquerade for the deception and betrayal underneath. The more he tried to push his sexuality deep inside, the more the demon reared its ugly head, each time stronger and more untamable. The struggle inside was real and often times devastating and draining. Who could he turn to? Who could he trust?

    He vividly recounted the one time he gathered enough courage to test the waters. This was when he tried to tell his best friend on the Chelsea team: “I’ve got something to tell you. I am gay.”

    The pushback was instantaneous and scarring, because the reply was: “F–k off! That’s disgusting!”

    Even though McCabe’s brief admission took place over 20 years ago, he—in this moment of recollection while sitting next to me—relived the hurt and the desperate echoes of uncertainty, anger and isolation that defined his adolescence. The message was clear. For McCabe, the road ahead forked quickly and sharply.

    An emotionally exhausted sixteen-year-old, he did what he could control to save himself. He gave up his dream. He quit soccer, the only thing he ever knew, the only thing he ever loved. McCabe offered no explanation, no reasoning and no justification, not to his teammates and not to his parents.

    Part II of Mark McCabe’s story, which will publish in the July 12 issue of the San Francisco Bay Times, reveals what he did next, including his participation in a more inclusive sport that helped to turn his life around for the better.

    John Chen, a UCLA alumnus and an avid sports fan, has competed as well as coached tennis, volleyball, softball and football teams.