Etienne Aduya was inadvertently outed at a team dinner. Closeted at the time, he confided in openly gay ex-NFL lineman Esera Tuaolo, who came to Williams College and spoke to the school. Aduya told Tuaolo he was gay.
That night, at a sushi restaurant in town, Tuaolo asked some of Aduya’s teammates how they had reacted when he came out to them. The anxiety started racing in Aduya’s heart: “I haven’t come out to them yet,” he replied.
His teammates supported him, and said they wouldn’t share his news with anybody else. They would wait for Aduya to do it on his own time.
Aduya penned his coming-out story for Outsports in 2017. In it, he talks about how Tuaolo accidentally sharing his secret that night turned out to be a positive. “It opened my eyes to the state of gay acceptance in football,” Aduya wrote at the time.
This week, Aduya was interviewed on the Outsports podcast, “The GAMEDAY TEA.” Looking back on his college experience, he says he wishes he had come out to his whole team. He also wishes he knew about the support system that was awaiting him.
“One thing that I really wish I had done during college was go to Outsports and just look up all of the coming-out stories that there were,” he said. “Just seeing the amount of acceptance that athletes were getting from their teammates and families. I feel like that’s such a huge resource to have when you’re an LGBTQ athlete. When I was in college, I probably wouldn’t have felt so alone, because you’re not.”
Earlier this year, three researchers studied 60 coming-out stories published on Outsports in 2016. They found male athletes overwhelmingly accept gay teammates.
That was Aduya’s experience at Williams College. Five years after graduation, Aduya says he’s working with his alma mater to improve LGBTQ inclusion, and promote visibility.
One way is to highlight the correlation between an athlete’s performance and mental wellbeing. When Aduya was closeted, he didn’t feel like he was performing up to his top standards.
He says every coach and athletic administrator should be aware there are almost certainly LGBTQ athletes in their programs.
“Athletes being accepted does lead to better performances, which leads to winning.” Aduya said. “And that’s what coaches care about: winning.”
Aduya knows there are many closeted athletes in high school and college right now, afraid to come forward. He hopes sharing his story, and continuing to speak publicly, erases the negative perception about male sports and LGBTQ inclusion.
“I definitely don’t want other athletes to feel the way I felt,” he said.
If you are considering suicide and age 24 and younger, contact the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and is available to people of all ages and identities. Trans Lifeline, for people who are trans, non-binary or gender-nonconforming, can be reached at 877-565-8860. All are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.