Moments after professional soccer player David Testo publicly came out of the closet in an interview with Radio-Canada’s Marie Malchelosse, the reporter warned Testo that his revelation would have far-reaching implications. Testo felt bad for Malchelosse: She seemed like a nice woman, and he was afraid she was too excited about a story that wouldn’t reach any further than the Montreal suburbs.
“I really felt this would stay in the circuit of Montreal and not go where it has,” Testo told Outsports in his first interview since the story broke. “I wasn’t expecting this ripple effect to happen. I’ve been here for so long I forgot that the rest of the sports world hasn’t caught up yet.”
On Thursday, Nov. 11, the interview hit the airwaves and the Internet. At 8 a.m. he got a phone call from his mother in Asheville, N.C., asking him what he’d done; Reporters were calling her asking for an interview. For the rest of the day he got a phone call from a friend every five minutes; And in the next 72 hours he would receive “thousands” of emails and messages.
“It spread with tons of love and tons of hope,” Testo said. “It goes to show we’re headed in the right direction. But we’re not where we need to be. If we were where we need to be, it wouldn’t have been a story at all.”
Testo said he made the decision to come out after being shaken by the suicide of 15-year-old Jamie Hubley in Ottawa. Hubley was teased in school in part because he was a figure skater instead of a hockey player. That teasing drove Hubley to take his own life.
“I just couldn’t get it out of my head,” Testo said. “Why not step up and show these young kids it’s okay to be who you are and be gay and be in sports? If I can help one person, why not? I’m not doing it for myself, I’m doing it to help others. I’m not getting anything out of this. I just think it’s time in our society.”
Living in the closet for almost 10 years
Testo spent his first two years of NCAA eligibility from 1999 to 2001 at the University of South Carolina, where he dated exclusively women. After he transferred to the University of North Carolina, Testo explored his sexuality further and landed in a long-term relationship with former Road Rules star Shane Landrum.
While Testo was completely closeted when their relationship began, it was because of Landrum that he opened up to some friends who would ask why he and Landrum lived with one another or kept showing up at the movies together.
Still, that was a close group of people who knew the secret that Testo never wanted revealed to the public. For the rest, Landrum didn’t exist in Testo’s life. He would tell Landrum to hide in the bathroom if a teammate paid a visit; When he had someone staying from out of town, he would have Landrum move out of their apartment for the duration of the visit.
“In some respects, I didn’t even treat him like a human being,” Testo said. He apologized to Landrum for his behavior years later.
It was in part because of that relationship that Testo came out publicly last week. While he hid his relationship and sexuality from most, it did force him to come out to some people; Those baby steps eventually led to his public statements.
“I don’t think if I dated Shane I’d be as open as I am because it forced me to tell so many people,” Testo said.
In the years after his relationship with Landrum he told more and more people. For many, the news of Testo’s sexual orientation wasn’t news at all. Joey Saputo, president of Testo’s most recent team, the Montreal Impact, said in a statement last week that the team knew Testo was gay when they signed him. Testo was out to many on his team, and players across soccer, including Major League Soccer, knew he was gay.
“Most of my teammates were more than accepting,” Testo said. “I developed really close friendships with them.”
Not surprisingly, he gravitated toward certain players on the team more than others. Some were truly interested in his personal life and inquisitive about homosexuality. Though he never experienced outright judgement from any teammates, from some Testo felt just a hint of distance, so he kept his.
“As open as my team was, I always had to be careful with whom I spoke or spent time with,” Testo said. “When we traveled, I always had to make sure I was rooming with someone who was okay with it. You always have to watch out for upsetting someone or making someone feel uncomfortable.”
While he didn’t get harrassed in the locker room, he felt it on the field. Being semi-out for so long, and with teammates coming and going, players on many teams knew he was gay. He said many considered it a sign of weakness; And when there’s a weakness on the field, athletes try to exploit it. Slurs like “Faggot” and “cocksucker” were thrown at him regularly by his competitors.
“I dealt with that on a normal basis,” Testo said. “When I was younger it made me angry. But the wiser and older I got, the less it affected me.”
He remembered one game in particular when another player was harrassing him. At one point during the game the player had gone to the ground. Despite the harrassment, Testo was the first player at his side to help him up. Testo said that moment changed the offending player, and he later heard the player speaking highly of Testo. His sportsmanship had trumped the anti-gay venom the player had learned for so many years.
“I got tired of fighting fire with fire,” Testo said. “I thought, this is a chance for me to grow personally and show other people who have strong feelings about it what a gay person is really like.”
Not everyone is mature and self-assured enough to handle the harrasment the way Testo did. While there are certainly other athletes like him who are out to their team or front office, taking the leap to “publicly out” is a jump Testo doesn’t think any active athlete in one of the big five leagues will take for many years.
“Being gay to your teammates and your organization is very different from being gay publicly,” he said. “When you travel you have a big target on your back for ridicule. I think that’s why athletes don’t come out. You put a target on your back.
“We’re not there as a society in general. There are pockets, but there are teams everywhere and you have to deal with that pressure wherever you play. You’re putting yourself at risk. You don’t know how other people are going to react to it. You just don’t know how people are going to respond. I hate to think there would be violence toward someone, but anything is possible.
“I think we’re going in the right direction as a society and sport. But until collectively we are seen as equal, like being blonde, no pro athlete will come out. It’s not for a long, long, long time.”
While he holds out some hope that he’ll be picked up by a pro team in the coming months, he said he knows he just made it a lot harder. Whether it’s an executive who doesn’t want a gay player on his team, or a coach who doesn’t want any player with the public “baggage” created by him coming out, he knows it will be tough.
Testo points to one fact that he says tells the story of gays in pro sports. Despite playing professional soccer for eight years, in two leagues, on four teams, with countless other players and coaches, and knowing at least one player on virtually every pro soccer team in North America, Testo has never heard of a single gay pro soccer player other than himself. That, he said, speaks volumes.
“How many guys out there are struggling with what I’ve been going through? And I don’t know of a single one.”
Now Testo is dealing with a whole new world on various levels. For the first time since graduating college he enters the winter months unsure of whether he’ll be playing soccer professionally next year. He usually spends one to two months of the offseason surfing and SCUBA diving in Hawaii, “disconnected from the world;” He won’t have that luxury this winter.
He’s also single for the first time since he started dating men in the early 2000s. His last relationship ended about eight months ago, and he’s embracing his new single life.
“I haven’t been single in a long time, and I’m enjoying just being with my friends and doing things at my own speed,” Testo said.
His public coming out has also, just days into it, brought about enormous change in his life. A self-described “private person,” he prefers spending his time with friends, playing with dogs and practicing yoga. Now he feels thrust into an advocacy role that he welcomes with open arms.
“I think this happened at this moment for a reason,” Testo said. “The universe was pointing me in a different direction. It just feels right that this all happened now.
“I’m not David Beckahm, but at least it’s a start. Maybe it will inspire someone else. Maybe someone will say, ‘I see he did it and he’s still happy and still playing.’ If it just spurs a thought in one person, it’s in the right direction.”
You can find Testo on Facebook.