One triggering incident scared the former “Bachelor” so much he not only fled back into the closet — but felt the need to apologize to the person at the heart of it after coming out.

Everyone’s coming out story is different, and former “Bachelor” Colton Underwood’s story nearly happened in an entirely different way … and much, much earlier.

In fact, he could have offered support to a fellow athlete in a vulnerable moment, but that’s not how it played out. Speaking with Variety, Colton said that he was a part of the NFL draft in 2014, the year Michael Sam came out as gay.

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Colton said that there was no internal doubt by this point, as he’d known he was different by the age of six and attacked to men early in his teen years. So by this point, he knew he was gay, but he was definitely not ready to go public with it.

“The football and athletic community is not ready for gay people,” he told the outlet. That’s not just a statement about 2014, when Michael made headlines by coming out (the first player ever drafted into the NFL to do so), but something Colton said in the present tense.

For him, it was the reactions from other players to Michael’s news that pushed him back even further into the closet.

Michael Sam coming out and being so public about it put me in the closet even further because I didn’t want to be like Michael, in the sense that I didn’t want it to be negative or bad,” Colton said.

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Looking back now, Colton realizes he could have chosen another path in that moment. In fact, he said he reached out to Michael after coming out himself last month and told Michael as much.

“I said, ‘I just want to let you know that you should have given me the confidence to stand up and say, ‘You’re not alone,'” Colton said. “But unfortunately, I went to a different locker room. And I told him, ‘In the locker room that I was in, they didn’t say nice things about you.’”

“I was like, ‘I’m sorry because I could have tried to help you by coming out with you, and then seen if that caused another to come out,’” he continued. “But I didn’t have the courage and I wasn’t at a point in my life where I was ready to come out.”

After a short tenure in the NFL, Michael retired from the NFL citing mental health reasons. He continues to work as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. As for Colton, he said part of the reason he came forward was to help other people who feel they have to hide their true identity, especially in the overly “masculine” sports world or as part of less tolerant religious and conservative groups.

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In a way, he says coming out now is a way to maybe make up for not coming out for Michael at a time when his pro-football colleague could have probably really used the support. “I feel like this is my opportunity to try to correct what I did wrong and try to impact people out there struggling, deeply in the closet and ashamed of who they are and hate who they are,” he said.

“I hated myself. I hated myself for being gay,” he continued. “If I can do anything to tell someone out there struggling that it’s all going to be okay one day and that everything you think you can’t have, you can, and there is power in your truth.”

As for his own future, Colton recalled telling a teacher he wanted to be an NFL player when he was in grade school, and her telling him to be more realistic. His second choice? A stay-at-home dad. Well, he’s already fulfilled one dream.

“I can, for the first time in my life, actually picture myself with a family,” he said. “And my family looks a little different than when I pictured it four or five years ago, but it just makes me happy, even thinking about it.”

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