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Gay icon Beckham set to take on America

(This story was published in 2007).

By: Mike Sarzo

After months of waiting, one of the most popular soccer players in the world is getting ready to lace up his famous shoes for the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer.

Of course, it's not just any foreign allocation for the Galaxy or MLS. This is David Beckham, a player who is so famous even in a seemingly soccer allergic United States that a cult favorite movie used his name ("Bend It Like Beckham"). He's so widely known for reasons other than his soccer prowess in part because he's married to a former Spice Girl, Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham.

Like the Eminem rap song once went, Becks literally impregnated a Spice Girl. He has three children by Posh Spice.

From a marketing perspective, Beckham's acquisition may be little more than a coup for MLS in its efforts to find legitimacy as it enters its 12th season. Beckham is set to make his Galaxy debut July 21. He still has a few years of high level play left in him since he celebrates his 32nd birthday on May 2. Media people I've spoken with dismiss any talk that MLS's move is akin to the North American Soccer League bringing in a cadre of expensive stars in the late 1970s who couldn't give two hoots about the sport in the U.S.

Beckham is getting the maximum salary that MLS's stringent salary cap can afford, but he's also getting additional money from billionaire owner Phil Anschutz and his group to the tune of a $250-million, five-year deal. The league itself isn't going for broke because Anschutz hardly has to pinch pennies. He and the late Lamar Hunt are examples of owners who have demonstrated a commitment to making the sport succeed in this country.

For gay fans, what does the acquisition of Beckham mean besides an opportunity for fans of the other 12 MLS teams to see him once or twice a year? Beckham reveled in his status as a gay icon. In fact, he reportedly ran around his house bragging about it as if it were a badge of honor. He certainly has taken to that honor by dressing the part of the multimillionaire.

Hopefully, a casual sports fan that knows who Beckham is can go to a MLS game when he's playing for the Galaxy and find out there's more to the sport than one famous player. Especially if it's a fan who can appreciate a player's good looks, but more importantly, someone who can appreciate the sport for what it is: A game of skill, intelligence and physicality that anyone who's in the stands would hardly call boring.

What the long-term effect Beckham will have on MLS or on soccer in the U.S. remains to be seen, but at the very least, he should generate significant interest in a major market that's lacking the "other" football. It might be the shot in the arm MLS needs to earn legitimacy in the U.S. and worldwide.