The Best Gay Sports Reporting You'll Read All Year
This last weekend, sports writer Leander Schaerlaeckens published undeniably the best gay sports reporting of 2011.
He profiled 31-year-old American soccer player David Testo, the man who could have become North America's first active and openly gay professional athlete. But after publicly coming out, he never played again.
In examining why, Schaerlaeckens builds a portrait of Testo, tormented by his awkward teammate crushes, off-field alcohol abuse and closeted relationship with an MTV reality star; yet a graceful and formidable soccer player who helped lead his college and professional teams to league championships.
You should really treat yourself to the entire article, but for skeptics and those of you in a rush, here's a section from the best part, when Testo slowly comes out and transforms his entire being:
"Midway through 2007, he was traded to the Montreal Impact – still a USL club at the time – in a lop-sided deal for an old favorite of the Whitecaps' coach. Suddenly finding himself living in a city with the largest gay neighborhood on the continent, he partied like never before and played well when he wasn’t injured."
"After a few years, his sexuality was an open secret. Everybody on the club knew. Nobody seemed to mind. For the first time, he became close to his teammates. He could talk to them about his boyfriend and find a sympathetic ear. The locker room, to his surprise, became an easier place to be. Rather than pop, the bubbles joined to form a bigger one."
"Opponents knew, too, and at first called him every gay slur imaginable. David was furious, but eventually started deflecting their comments, comfortable as he finally was with himself. He'd realized he could fight homophobia on the field by showing himself to be just as much of a man and soccer player as anyone else. He would help his antagonists off the ground after he tackled them. "I saw certain players change their whole perspective," he says."
"As he stopped acting overtly masculine off the field, his game seemed to be moving in the opposite direction. He softened up on himself and hardened as a player. Originally a forward, he'd gradually drifted into the midfield. Now he was gravitating to an enforcer role, tackling and man-marking — the bruising stuff. Nobody questions the toughest player on the field."
Schaerlaeckens' piece even cites an entire piece by Outsports blogger Cyd Ziegler Jr. on the growing support of homosexuality in soccer as well as the significance of Testo's legacy:
"...professional soccer in North America is showing signs of strong support to end homophobia. Several Major League Soccer teams have held joint events with gay sports groups in the last two years. Teams have created videos supporting gay people in sports, including the popular It Gets Better video project. The League has partnered with You Can Play to show their support. And over 100 North American pro soccer players have publicly stated they are an ally to the gay community."
"... Whether it’s because [Testo] came out, because he hadn’t played so well the previous year, or a combination of those things and other elements, we’ll never know why he didn’t get the chance to play after coming out to the world."
"Still, his coming out was significant. Despite the vast number of soccer players around the world, precious few have come out. The highest-profile footballer to do so – Justin Fashanu – killed himself years after his public revelation."
"Even though he says he’ll never play professionally again, Testo’s announcement still sent a shockwave through the sporting world: There is now unequivocal evidence that, yes, gay men do play soccer…and they play it very well."
For those of you who are curious what Testo is up to these days, he works as a certified yoga instructor, has launched a website helping those struggling with their sexuality, and recently threw the first pitch at the September 27th Blue Jays game, partly as a gesture of goodwill to make up for Yunel Escobar's recent, on-field gay slur.