Gay rights are taking center stage at this year’s men’s World Cup, thanks to the host country’s diabolical treatment of LGBTQ people. In response, various clubs are voicing support for the LGBTQ community: the U.S. Men’s National Team is using a logo adorned with Pride colors, and 13 European teams plan to wear “OneLove” armbands.
But the strongest statement against the Qatari’s medieval stance on LGBTQ rights would be an out gay player participating in the tournament. Unfortunately, there will be none.
There were 40 out women players, along with a coach and trainer, at the women’s World Cup in 2019.
When it comes to LGBTQ representation, the disparity between men’s and women’s sports is nothing new. There were at least 36 out athletes at the 2022 Beijing Games, but only 11 men. At the Tokyo Games, the ratio of out women to men was 9 to 1 (there were at least 186 out athletes overall).
But even for male sports, the lack of a single out player in a major international competition is noteworthy. For more insight on this mystery, I turned to the longtime soccer coach and MLS executive John Dorn, who wrote his coming-out essay for Outsports last summer.
Dorn says there are multiple possible explanations for the dearth of gay players in the men’s World Cup, ranging from soccer culture to the location of the event itself.
Fear within locker rooms
Dorn has been around soccer for decades, receiving his big professional break in 2001 when he was named director of soccer for the Chicago Fire’s U-23 PDL program, the first developmental team for the Chicago MLS franchise. From there, he became the Fire’s director of player development.
Currently, Dorn is the chairman and soccer director for USL League Two’s Chicago FC United, another developmental squad.
Despite being several decades older than his players, Dorn says he’s always found it easier to talk with them about his personal life than his coaching peers. It’s not that Dorn’s older friends around the game aren’t accepting.
They're just not as well-versed in the subject.
“I think there’s still a fear within locker rooms,” said Dorn. “The coaches are generally a bit older, they’re in their 40s or 50s like me. My coaching peers have been nothing but supportive. That said, it’s a lot easier to sit and talk about my personal life with my former players who are in their late 20s and 30s now.”
Dorn’s Outsports story opens with an anecdote about how enthusiastically one of his former players reacted to his coming out. Throughout this process, the player has been one of Dorn’s closest confidantes.
“I felt more comfortable talking to him than my best friend in coaching, who’s completely open and understanding,” said Dorn. “But he’s close to my age.”
There are a growing number of out pro male soccer players: Scottish player Zander Murray and English player Jake Daniels came out as gay earlier this year. Josh Cavallo came out to great fanfare in 2021.
In the U.S., Collin Martin plays in the USL Championship.
But there aren’t any out coaches in the major pro leagues. They’re ultimately the ones who set the tone.
“I think it’s about the leadership: coaches, managers,” said Dorn. “There’s not a 29-year-old MLS head coach right now. But that 29 year old, when he’s 35, he’s going to be an MLS coach or manager. And if he feels that way, the locker room is going to feel that way.”
Agents and perceived business interests
For years, Outsports co-founders Cyd Zeigler and Jim Buzinski have spoken about the role sports agents play in discouraging clients from publicly coming out. In a recent article, Zeigler writes he knows “for a fact some agents have, over the last decade, told athletes to stay in the closet.”
Dorn relayed the same information to me. He says he knows at least one high-profile player in the U.S. was dissuaded from coming out by his agent.
“You have remember this: the players at the World Cup are the best of the very best,” said Dorn. “There’s a lot of very good professional players that play in the Premier League that aren’t in the World Cup right now. When you have the very best players, I do feel — obviously they make the most money and have the most endorsements — I do think from a business perspective, that agents do [discourage them].”
This outdated mentality fails to recognize the windfall that awaits out gay and bi athletes in male sports.
Carl Nassib, for his part, seems to be just fine playing alongside Tom Brady for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Apparently, some agents and advisors haven’t caught up yet.
The Qatar factor
Qatar is one of the most dangerous places to be LGBTQ in the world. Police harass and abuse gay people, and homosexuality is illegal. Those who are caught engaging in homosexual acts can be jailed, and Muslims can be executed.
While Qatari officials have made some perfunctory assurances about protecting the safety of LGBTQ people, their comments don’t inspire confidence. Qatar’s World Cup ambassador recently called homosexuality “damage in the mind.”
If a World Cup player was thinking of coming out, the tournament’s location may have caused him to change his mind.
“Maybe a guy or two who was thinking of coming out was dissuaded,” said Dorn. “Look, if you’re gonna go to Qatar and be on the world stage, do you want to be in a place where you’re immediately going to be under scrutiny? Maybe not.”
Dorn’s guarantee for the 2026 World Cup
With that said, Dorn still expects there to be at least one out player when the World Cup comes to North America in 2026.
He thinks there will only be more LGBTQ visibility in male soccer going forward, which will only breed a more open atmosphere.
“If I had an out gay coach 20 years ago, I would’ve come out 20 years ago,” said Dorn.