Earlier today, former Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact midfielder David Testo announced to Radio-Canada that he is gay. It's news that almost everybody is glad to hear but that almost nobody is glad is news.
This is hardly the place for a discussion of homosexuality in sports: that ground has been trodden into mud, with athlete upon athlete breaking increasingly flimsy taboo in their respective sports over the last few years. It's said that Testo is the first former Major League Soccer player to come out, but having spent two seasons as a depth player with the Columbus Crew early in his career he was hardly an MLS star. A frequent wish expressed on all occasions like this is that an active, homosexual star player would come out of the closet, as such an athlete certainly exists in some sport somewhere.
However, while Testo was an MLS journeyman he was also a leading player for both the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact over half a decade. Testo won a USL First Division title with Vancouver in 2006 as arguably the playoff MVP, was a major part of Montreal's USL-1 championship in 2009, and is one of the ten most important Canadian-based professionals since the old Canadian Soccer League folded. Despite being born, raised, and educated in North Carolina, Testo has clearly been more significant to Canadian soccer than he was in the United States.
The American media from Grant Wahl on down is talking about Testo today but this is, ultimately, a Canadian story. And it's incumbent upon the Canadian soccer community to give us a happy ending.
CBC went so far as to point out that "no male athlete from a major league has come out while still playing." However, Testo's only 30 years old and was just cut from a team preparing for MLS. He hasn't announced any retirement plans and he certainly has enough quality left to catch on somewhere in the NASL or USL PRO for 2012. Testo's making this announcement at the end of his Montreal Impact career but he should have a few years left as a playing professional if he's willing to look for them.
It's natural to wish that Testo had made this statement when he was still a prominent Whitecaps or Impact player. If you were to list the three most gay-friendly cities in North America, two of them would probably be Vancouver and Montreal. He certainly could have counted on a positive reception from either Impact or Whitecaps supporters, both die-hard and casual. Today, a glance at fan reaction shows almost unanimous support for Testo in both official languages.
That said, very few of those reading this are qualified to judge the mentality in a professional soccer locker room. Testo may have had good cause to be reluctant to come out while he already had teammates that might be unprepared for such a revelation; he may even have had good cause to be worried.
Well-known MLS personality and former player Taylor Twellman has been positive. Other ex-coworkers in other parts of the Impact organization, including owner Joey Saputo, have also publicly been on Testo's side. Well, why wouldn't they be: it's the year 2011 and supporting a colleague when he comes out as gay is less "being a good person" and more "basic human decency". But as of this writing, of Testo's former teammates, only Pat Leduc has commented in public on Testo's outing. Leduc was enthusiastically supportive.
This probably isn't because of homophobia or tension in the Impact bootroom. Testo's sexuality is said to have been an open secret among friends, family, and teammates, and with a team MVP award in 2009 as well as countless quality performances Testo didn't exactly play soccer like a guy loathed and feared by his co-workers. Perhaps the lack of public support is simply because, to the Impact family, this isn't news.
Still, if we're to live in a world where athletes don't need to worry about their sexual orientation, the ball is in the court of every Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps player who knew or played with David Testo to tell the world whether or not it bothers them. The enthusiastic support of strangers might mean a lot to the still-closeted Testos of the world but it can't mean as much as the knowledge that Testo's old team still stands by him, and that the Canadian soccer world would be just as willing to play with him now as they were yesterday.
I know I'd prefer to think of Testo's public announcement as a non-story: "he's gay? Who cares; that's his business, not mine." But, statistically, there are certain to be several other homosexuals active in Canadian professional soccer today. Odds are that somebody in the Vancouver Whitecaps locker room is gay, and if he's staying in the closet because it's none of our business then that's fine but if it's because he's not sure what the reaction to his sexuality would be, then that's a problem.
That's Canada's responsibility. Testo's old comrades didn't ask for the chance to help mold public opinion and one can understand why they'd stay silent. But I, and everyone who wants a world where sexuality is no more important to an athlete than eye colour, should hope they speak up.