A lot has happened to Bobby Jones, a 13-year old transgender soccer goalkeeper who only wants to play as the boy he is, since we last told his story in Outsports in November. In recent weeks, he achieved two goals, without ever stepping onto a pitch: both are personal, and typically private.
The Kirkwood, Wash. teen agreed to share his hopes, fears, and milestones with Outsports, in his own words. For Bobby Jones, this ride isn’t just about being in the game, it’s about being.
Jones told us in a phone interview, he found his place on the pitch by happenstance, as a substitute. During an indoor game as a 10-year old, his team’s regular keeper was hurt and they needed someone to play the spot.
“Our keeper got hurt so I had to go in goal,” Jones said. “It was really fun so I continued to play at keeper.”
Since then, Bobby grew into the position and he started learning all about keepers. He took Bayern Munich and Germany national team star Manuel Neuer, considered by some the greatest keeper in the history the game, as a model.
As he grew to love the sport and love his place in it, he was also pondering his place as a whole. What was stated on a birth certificate 13 years ago wasn’t who he was.
At times the dysphoria was crushing. “There are times when I didn’t want go out into the public,” he said. “I just wanted to sit in my room in play video games.”
There was a growing need to come forward, even through uncertainty and fear. He would step into his own truth as a nation was learning hard truths about itself through pandemic and the protests of the spring and summer of 2020.
The national conversation surrounding the death of George Floyd was a subject discussed at many dinner tables, including at the Jones’ home in Kirkwood. It was one week after the tragedy and actions that grew from it when another conversation took place. It was time for Bobby Jones to come out. A step that can be a stumbling block for even the most affirming, loving families.
“June 2nd was when Bobby disclosed who he was to us,” his mother Eleanor told us. “We were thrilled that Bobby felt so safe and supported in coming to us. That, as a parent, it’s everything.”
For Bobby, it was just time. When asked if he felt any apprehension or fear coming out to his parents, you could hear a single sharp, confident response. “No,” he said resolutely. “I knew they would love me no matter what.”
His biggest worry was telling his 11-year-old brother, Hudson. “He and Bobby have always had a close bond,” his mom said. “Hudson said at the dinner table ‘I got you Bro! I’m with you one-thousand percent!’”
A reflective smile came across a young face as the story was told. “It was amazing,” Bobby remembered of his younger brother’s reaction. “It was a relief to know that I was nervous for no reason.”
A few days later he was at a training session for his team, Titans FC. The first practice. The next coming out. Would there be acceptance? Again, full support and smiles.
It was a calm amid stormy times, but the next storm was coming.
“You have to stand up for what you believe in, or change is never going to happen.”
As late summer turned to fall, the coronavirus pandemic keep Titans FC in training. Bobby Jones had his sight sets toward being his team’s goalkeeper in a game that counts in 2021.
A regulation of the Puget Sound Premier League put his hopes in peril: “In the PSPL, players must play on teams of their same sex.”
A son, his parents, and his team were puzzled. They all sought answers from the league. To Bobby, it seemed that the league didn’t like the questions.
“One of worst parts was them not admitting they were wrong,” he recalled. “The funny part was that they got super defensive about it because they knew the were wrong.”
The sticking point was that the league’s policy contradicted United States Soccer Federation guidelines which state:
“A player may register with the gender team with which the player identifies, and confirmation sufficient for guaranteeing access shall be satisfied by documentation or evidence that shows the stated gender is sincerely held, and part of a person’s core identity.”
At the time, the PSPL tried to downplay the matter because games weren’t being played due to the pandemic. The Jones family wouldn’t merely stand back. They pressed forward.
“He is an example to me that when you are fighting for what is right and you have to take that energy and harness it towards the work,” his mother said. “We knew the policy as it was written was wrong so we as a family put all of our energy to making sure this would be fair for Bobby and for everybody else.”
The feeling is mutual. When asked who has kept him so grounded, confident and focused, the son pauses and then says, “my mom”.
The story got some local column inches, airtime, and the ultimate sign of media traction, a hashtag (#LetBobbyPlay). In the middle was Bobby Jones staring into the red light of a television camera. The youngster made his feelings known with the confidence of a goalkeeper setting up his teammates to stop an enemy corner kick.
The story reached as far as the front door of the Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders. Brad Evans, a charter Sounder, former team captain and now the team’s Brand Ambassador, showed up a local field on a drizzly day and had a training session with Jones.
The moment was priceless, so was this MLS veteran’s call to support. “Everyone should be involved regardless of how they identify and regardless of who they are,” Evans told KIRO-TV.
For the smiling young man, the feeling was mutual. “It was amazing,” he said excitedly. “and I want to do it again.”
The groundswell got the notice of the PSPL. On November 2, they announced a new policy. It would allow Jones to play on the boys team where he belongs. It also had some flaws that needed to be ironed out. A watchful mom, working with both Gender Diversity and Athlete Ally, continues to work with the PSPL to refine the policy, including building greater training for coaches in how to work with trans and gender non-conforming kids.
His initial fight was over, but the story had some important chapters ahead.
A Journey Of Milestones
The next chapter began on November 16, 2020 in the form of a name: Bobby Remel Jones. It would be his legal name, forevermore. “I felt excited,” he remembers. “like a new beginning.”
“There were smiles all day,” his mom beamed. “He asked to go to McDonald’s for Big Macs to celebrate.”
A few weeks later, Bobby Jones was wheeled into an operating room for top surgery, the next milestone. The dysphoria that at times kept him bunkered in the house would be nullified.
The next time he steps on the pitch would feel lighter. “This extra weight that was tagging along and isn’t really a part of me is gone,” he exclaimed.
That next step happened on January 11. The goalkeeper was healed up and back at training with Titans FC. “We’re ready for him to stop practicing in the house,” his mom deadpanned.
Consider the last six months of this teenager’s life: He came out to his family and his team. He stepped in and fought for his rightful place on the pitch. He took the steps he needed to affirm himself in the wider world as he saw fit.
Joining Gender Cool
Off the pitch, he was recently chosen for another special team. Jones will be a part of the GenderCool Project, an effort built around trans and gender non-conforming teens telling their truth and counteracting hysteria about who they are.
The goalkeeper will be sharing the his story of a journey built on strong roots, and his mom notes how his family and community have been lifted up by the confident wings he has grown into.
“The biggest guiding emotion for his father and I is this immense sense of pride,” his mom says. “We’ve been granted the gift of knowing Bobby because he let us know his true self. All of this that has come our way, we’ve taken that energy and harnessed it. This has been great for our family. Every milestone has been this beautiful gift to see him evolve into this beautiful human that he is.”
Should we get a flattening of the COVID curve, Bobby Jones will be protecting a net this spring just like his hero Neuer. His future ambition is to someday be the lead goalkeeper of his hero’s team — Bayern Munich.
Given his confidence, one shouldn’t bet against him. When asked who is the one scorer he’d like to have to chance to stop on a breakaway, he smiled and said, “Ronaldo, because he’s the best.”