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Romance or bromance? Pro soccer players Keita Balde, Patric post photos holding hands

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The two Italian league players now imply they were just joking.

Part of the photo posted on Twitter.

Update: The players say it was a joke. See below.

Original story:

Pro soccer players Keita Balde and Patricio Gabarrón Gil (known as Patric) are teammates for the Italian soccer club Lazio and on Sunday they each posted on social media an identical photo that has people wondering if they are a gay or bisexual couple, playing a joke or just two guys showing affection and pushing boundaries.

This was posted on Patric’s Twitter feed:

Balde, 22, then retweeted the photo shortly after Patric’s tweet, which makes it look coordinated. The red heart and the two male emojis — one black and one white — could suggest that they are a gay or bisexual couple, but neither followed up with any detail or responded to comments on the post. I tweeted some questions to both that have so far gone unanswered.

Balde and Patric are obviously close teammates, as Patric, 24, has posted numerous photos of them together, including this two weeks ago:

Until the men declare their sexual orientation we can assume nothing. It is Outsports’ policy to not call anyone LGBT until they do it themselves in some concrete way.

The tweet can be interpreted in multiple ways and I hope they address their intent. Maybe they are a couple and this was their way of going public. Maybe they’re playing with their fans for some reason or trying to make a statement about male friendship (the two were also on a youth soccer team together). The latter is reminiscent of Cristiano Ronaldo posting provocative photos two years ago with a male friend that also left a lot unsaid.

It would be cool if Balde and Patric — both were born in Spain — were in a same-sex relationship, especially since Balde is a rising star who is drawing interest from bigger clubs in Europe. It would also be a first for major European soccer to have an openly gay active player.

Each player has more than 40,000 followers and the tweet has gotten 2,500 likes and 1,800 retweets as of this writing. It was heartening to see the majority of Twitter comments either curious about whether they were gay or supportive if they were:

“If Keita is gay then fair play for coming out. Very bold. Sets a good message for other homosexual players that it's okay to come out.”

“Massive statement, one in this day and age shouldn't be necessary. But fair play for being honest. Best of luck to ye. Sign for Liverpool.”

“Wow very brave of you guys, could be a watershed moment for gay men in the sport. Much respect.”

Update:

On Monday, Patric tweeted a photo showing a third man in the picture implying it was all a joke (or that they are a threesome):

Balde hasn’t tweeted anything since. Patric waited more than 14 hours between posts to tweet the punchline. If it’s a joke I don’t get it. Did they think it was a joke for people to assume they were a couple or that there’s something funny about being gay? As one person commented on the new post:

“Do you think funny that people might think that you are gay? You are making life harder for a guy who follows you and might be gay.”

Hat tip to Conner for alerting us to the tweet.