Soccer coach John Netter. | WKBW screenshot

When soccer coach John Netter came out to everyone as gay last year, the apologies flowed in.

Netter has been involved in the sport since his mid-teens as a player, referee and coach. He’s now a goalies coach for FC Buffalo a semi-pro team in USL League Two, with teams in over a dozen divisions across the country. It was last offseason that team co-owner Nick Mendola and head coach Sean Hallas reached out to Netter to become a coach for the club.

“I am super busy with coaching, refereeing, my full-time job, family, friends, boyfriend,” Netter told Outsports. “But this opportunity was pretty high on my priority list. Goalkeeper training is something i’ve really wanted to focus on. “

Over his years in and around various levels of soccer, Netter had heard problematic jokes and homophobic comments from people on his team and around the sport.

“A lot of that language really messed me up,” Netter said. “There was a guy I had to share a hotel room with, and we had one bed. And he made a joke, not knowing I’m gay, ‘Hey don’t try anything tonight.’

“That really f’ed me up for a while.”

It was an “innocent” joke to Netter’s teammate. Two guys sharing a bed, the teammate seemed to want to say something to break the ice and make it clear them sleeping next to each other was “no homo.”

Yet as we’ve learned over an over, closeted gay athletes hear these “innocent jokes” and translate them into “I hate gay people.” Netter did just that.

“If people are comfortable making these jokes when they don’t know somebody’s gay,” he thought, “what are they going to say when they know?”

The truth is, when athletes know they have a gay or bi teammate, their language improves and their attitude becomes welcoming. Outsports has reported on this anecdotally over the years, and it was proven to be true in our Out In Sports study.

Coach finding support after coming out as gay

Netter found that out for himself when he talked openly about being gay. Many of the people who had made comments or “jokes” about gay people reached out to him and apologized for anything they might have said, or otherwise offered their support.

“That outpouring of support was super cool,” Netter said.

When Netter came out to people in his life last year, he didn’t see it as much of a revelation. He assumed people already knew he was gay. While he had been careful to hide his love for men in his teens, he had over the last couple of years lived his life relatively openly, including on social media.

“It’s pretty obvious from my pictures and bio that i’m gay. Probably half of the roster I’ve known for seven-plus years. Most of them probably already knew when I came out on social media last July.”

It’s a dynamic incredibly common amongst LGBTQ people. Hiding our secret “in plain sight,” it feels like everyone is in on it.

Yet so few people — and this is particularly true in men’s sports — think about other men being gay, it’s just not even on the radar.

Sharing his coming out story to give others courage

It’s just now that Netter is wanting to share his story more publicly. And Pride Month is the perfect time.

He sees the power of being out there, so that people who don’t even know him see him being out as a goalkeeper, a referee and a soccer coach.

Earlier this week, his story was shared locally on Buffalo’s WKBW by reporter Matt Bove, who has known Netter since elementary school.

Netter thinks back to those days growing up, all of the role models he had, and how none of them were gay or advocated for inclusion of the LGBTQ community.

He shares his story now to be that person for someone else.

“When I was younger I lacked the representation of seeing someone like myself as a coach, and that’s why it took me so long to come to terms with myself,” he said. “I had great role models when I was younger, but this was this one thing I felt I needed to hide.

“It doesn’t mean there weren’t people who helped me along the way, but the fact that they never talked about [gay acceptance] made it seem they weren’t comfortable with it.”

Netter acknowledged that there are many out LGBTQ people across women’s soccer. At the most recent FIFA Women’s World Cup, there were at least 96 publicly out athletes plus some coaches.

Yet so far, the 2026 FIFA World Cup is projected to have exactly zero publicly out male players.

“In women’s soccer, it’s assumed you’re lesbian,” Netter observed. “In men’s sports, it’s the opposite. For some people, it’s still stuck in our heads. For guys who are supposed to be ‘a man’ and be ‘strong,’ any time a man can be vulnerable, some other guys look at is as being weak.

“But I look at it as being strong.”

Netter hopes his strength will help someone else struggling to accept who they are. As Outsports’ tagline says, Courage Is Contagious.

You can follow John Netter on Instagram.