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Soccer star shares his story about an athlete’s life in the closet

What follows is the personal testimonial of Stephen Bickford, who was 2004 NSCAA/Adidas National High School Player of the Year, United States U-18 player, and University of North Carolina Forward, all while living the life of a young man in the closet. — Chris

In high school, I was fortunate enough to have been a part of one of the greatest youth teams in the country at the time, the ’86 CASL Elite. As a team we won the NCYSA State Championship every single year from U-14 through U-19 and were a force to be reckoned with on the national stage, winning multiple showcase tournaments all over the country.

From my first touch of a ball at 6 years old, I had a rare gift for an American soccer player. I scored goals…lots of goals. Any time I got the ball in the attacking third of the field I was confident that I was going to put the ball in the back of my opponents net, and I did, hundreds and hundreds of times. Scoring goals was my job, and it was also my favorite thing to do on this earth. Fortunately for me, the team I had playing behind me made my job a whole lot easier than it could have been, and I have to give them credit for getting me the ball as much as they did. One would think that my life couldn’t have been happier: playing for a fantastic team, winning trophies and scoring goals at will. What could I possibly be unhappy about? Well, I knew I was gay.

Being gay and playing a team sport can be incredibly frightening. You live in constant fear of having your teammates find out your secret, and in constant terror of what the consequences will be. All I wanted to do in life was play soccer. It had been my dream ever since I was 6 years old. I identified myself as a soccer player well before I knew I was gay. In a team sport, you rely on your teammates in order for you as an individual to be successful. If my teammates knew I was gay, I was sure that I’d be treated differently, and it could possibly jeopardize my success in the game.

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