Thomas Beattie’s decorated professional soccer career ended when he suffered a life-threatening head injury in 2015. But there was a saving grace: he says the devastating injury finally pushed him to come out after a lifetime in the closet.

In an ESPN essay, Beattie, who played professionally in North America, Europe and Asia, says he calls the injury a “beautiful nightmare.” Going for a header during an AFC Champions League game in Myanmar, Beattie broke his skull, and his frontal lob was completely shattered. He was forced to retire from the pitch at 29 years old, embarking on an entrepreneurial career in Singapore, where he was named one of the country’s most eligible bachelors in 2019. Now, Beattie says he feels an obligation to come out, so he can be visible to other struggling LGBTQ athletes.

“Growing up, I never read a story like this, and I wonder how my life might have been different if I had,” he writes. “I also know I am writing at a time when so many of our lives have been disrupted. The current climate has us stuck inside, isolated more than ever. This is nothing new for a closeted gay athlete. Try having to deal with this feeling your entire life; it can be debilitating.”

Beattie is the first professional soccer player in Asia to ever come out, and only the third male soccer player in British history to do so. Born in Yorkshire, England, Beattie was scouted by Hull City A.F.C., a professional club in his hometown. But he moved to the U.S. at 19 years old, enrolling at Limestone College, a Division II school in South Carolina. Beattie says he wanted to live in the U.S., because he viewed it as a way to hide. As a college student, he seldom spent time alone, opting to distract himself with late-night trips to the music department and gym. Beattie was petrified of introspection.

The program’s first ever All-American, Beattie was approached about playing in Major League Soccer. But he was determined to play in Europe, where he landed in Scotland and Norway before returning to North America to play in the Canadian Soccer League. He excelled, earning Rookie of the Year honors and becoming the league's top scorer.

But Beattie’s incredible success didn’t bring him happiness or peace. Instead, he continued to anguish over his sexuality. He went to Asia and enjoyed a successful stint in Singapore before he went for the fateful header and broke his skull. The injury changed everything.

“I told myself, if I get through this, I’m going to allow myself the time and space to embrace who I really am,” he writes. “Life is so fragile, and the things that once mattered no longer did. No amount of money, houses, cars or achievements in football was ever going to bring me contentment if I didn’t look inward and understand my feelings.”

Now that Beattie is out, he says he hopes to be an example, and change the culture of homophobia in British soccer.

“I hope in time these things no longer have to be spoken about,” he writes. “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.”