Adam Burnett was afraid of how his Parkway Central High School soccer teammates would react if they discovered he was gay.
The team had just won the Missouri Class 3 state championship last season, and Burnett had been an important part of that run to the title. Yet he still worried that his teammates would reject his true self if they knew he was gay.
It wasn’t just his high school teammates that drove fear in him. It was his club team, and his former team, too. Before playing for Parkway Central, Burnett was playing for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, something he said was akin to a job. He wanted playing the sport to feel more like playing a sport, so he found high school football. Regardless of the team, though, he has heard plenty in the locker room to drive fear in him.
“I was afraid,” Burnett told Outsports last week in a ranging phone conversation. “Guys on both teams would say ‘faggot’ or ‘gay’ around me, but not directed at me. They’d use gay slurs, so I always thought being gay was a bad thing, and that they wouldn’t like me because I was gay. So I’d act straight.”
Gay athlete finds straight teammates still love him
Last autumn, shortly after winning the state title with his high school team, he found his fears were almost universally for naught.
“They were all supportive and super cool with it right off the bat.”
Burnett is a star on his high school team. Last year as a junior, he was on all-state and all-region lists. In his first 12 games this season, before missing a period of time due to injury, he said he scored 12 goals and had two assists. He’s hoping to get back on the pitch for the playoffs this month.
Even as an important part of his team’s success, he feared the response to his secret. Burnett said that the fear of the unknown — that being the reactions of his teammates, coaches, friends and family — buried him at times in a hole of depression.
“I really suffered from depression and anxiety,” Burnett said. “It was really getting to me that I had to hold such a big secret and go through such a lie and act how I didn’t want to act. I was at the lowest point of my life before I came out. It helped big time to come out.
“It was a huge weight off my shoulders to not have to live a lie anymore.”
Finding lots of acceptance, but not complete acceptance
Not everyone’s reaction in his life was perfect. At least one teammate outside of his high school team suddenly built a proverbial wall between him and his newly out gay friend.
“Some people have distanced themselves a little bit, but then my friendships with other guys have gotten closer.”
Yes, you read that right. Burnett’s coming out has actually made him closer to some of his friends and teammates. It’s a reflection of dynamics in sports we at Outsports have heard for years. Athletes value their genuine teammates and truth.
Some of the people Burnett feared telling the most were his father and brothers. Yet Burnett’s father has been an incredible supporter of his son.
“He didn’t really care after I came out,” Burnett said, “and he’s been one of my top supporters.”
His brothers, as well, have stepped up and fully supported their gay brother. That was something he wasn’t sure of, as he had learned from his brothers how to be a straight guy. Burnett has dated a number of girls in the past, but now he doesn’t feel he has to do that. No more acting for him.
“I learned how to be straight and how to flirt with girls and how to date girls,” he said. “But that was really hard because I don’t like girls.”
His brothers have accepted him completely for liking boys, an important and affirming endorsement in his life.
Gay soccer player headed to NCAA
Next autumn he will be playing soccer for Rockhurst University, an NCAA Division II school in Kansas City. Burnett said he was recruited by some Division I schools but chose Rockhurst for various reasons.
Burnett wasn’t interested in going back into the closet when he arrived at Rockhurst, so he was straight-forward with the coaches at the school.
“I told the coaches right when they started talking to me,” he said. “The coaches are cool with it too. They’re happy for me.”
Like so many LGBTQ athletes before him, Burnett is sharing his story publicly to help other athletes like him find their true selves, and find the strength to share their truths with teammates, friends and family.
“I want to help people in situations like mine be who they can be and be happy for who they are. I want to encourage people to try to find happiness and be who they want to be. I’ve helped four or five people this year come out and be who they are. That makes me feel good.”