David Testo, an American-born professional soccer midfielder for the Montréal Impact came out as gay, in a report published this morning on the CBC’s French-language broadcast arm Radio-Canada:
““Je suis homosexuel, je suis gai, a-t-il confié à Radio-Canada Sports. Je né l’ai pas choisi. Ça fait seulement partie de ce que je suis. Et ça n’a rien à voir avec le talent d’un joueur de soccer. Tu peux être à la fois un excellent joueur de soccer et être gai.”
“I’m homosexual, I’m gay,” Testo, who is 30, told CBC Sports. “I did not choose. It’s just part of who I am. And it has nothing to do with the talent of a soccer player. You can be both an excellent soccer player and be gay.”
With this statement, Testo added his name to the notably short list of three openly-gay professional male soccer players which also includes Justin Fashanu (who came out in 1990 and died by suicide eight years later), and Swedish defender Anton Hysén who came out earlier this year.
Testo is an American-born player with a college soccer record from the University of South Carolina. He used to play for the Columbus Crew, a Major League Soccer (MLS) team, and is currently on the roster for Montréal Impact, a Canadian franchise which will join the MLS next year. Now imagine what Testo’s statement could do if he was officially supported by representatives from every one of these organizations.
Although Testo’s statement is a welcome development for anti-homophobia advocates, it may not generate the commentary and fanfare that followed Hysén’s. When the Swedish defender spoke to sports magazine Offside in mid-March, he became the first pro male player to do so since Fashanu, an event some of us had been eagerly waiting for.
If we had imagined a sort of domino effect, with player after player standing Spartacus-like and declaring his homosexuality, we were dreaming. After an initial flurry of interviews and fresh attention on the topic of homophobia in soccer, Hysén once again faded into the background with his fourth division team Utsiktens BK. Maybe we need a higher profile athlete, some of us said. A Beckham or a Messi.
But the problem’s not with the players—it’s with the governing bodies of the sport. As support for anti-discrimination policies across the global sports worlds increases (in the first half of 2011 alone, more than 25 high-profile spots figures came out as gay) professional soccer has displayed a uniform disregard for the issue.
Led by Sepp Blatter, FIFA is notorious for its mishandling of homophobia concerns. The outrage over FIFA’s reinstatement of Croatian Football Federation president Vlatko Markovic in February after his homophobic remarks in November 2010 was all-but-forgotten after the organization’s refusal to react to Nigerian head coach Ucharia Uche’s homophobic comments and actions before and during the Women’s World Cup in June. With no signs of support from the top, soccer has been left behind in an increasingly inclusive and diverse sports landscape.
With tenacious and effective grassroots advocacy from organizations like the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association (IGLFA), recreational leagues from around the world, and anti-homophobia organizations (most notably, The Justin Campaign which was named after the late Fahsanu) it’s entirely possible that the story of inclusive soccer will be written from the ground up. If so, Testo’s statement presents a significant opportunity to game-changers in the world of professional soccer.
The fans are doing their part; the advocates are doing their part; and even if they’ve been a bit slow to come out, the players are doing their part. Now it’s time for the owners, the administrators, and the organizers to do their part and help usher in a new era of soccer that rejects homophobia.