David Testo is not sure he will play professional soccer again, but he is sure about his sexual orientation, and he is speaking out in the name of change.
Testo, a 30-year-old midfielder who played for the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps FC, revealed in a Radio-Canada broadcast Thursday morning that he is gay. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Testo said that he is going public because of a recent string of suicides among gay teenagers, including Ottawa's Jamie Hubley, an openly gay figure skater who was bullied at school.
"We have to change, and it's always been my philosophy that you have to lead the change you want to see," Testo said. "I felt like it was almost my duty to say that this is okay."
No active athlete has come out among the big four North American professional sports leagues, the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball and the NHL.
Sheryl Swoopes, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA most valuable player, came out in 2005 while still active. So did professional rugby union player Gareth Thomas, a former captain of the Welsh team, in 2009. Former college basketball player Will Sheridan, who played for the Villanova Wildcats from 2004 to 2007, has said that his teammates were aware that he was gay, and that it was never an issue.
Testo said he is not aware of another gay player in North American professional soccer, but believes that the majority of his teammates and opponents were aware of his orientation during the latter years of his career.
"For everyone going through this, it's a big weight on your shoulders, where you can't be who you are, and who you want to be," he said. "Change is not going to happen until people start stepping up and saying: 'I'm gay, and I'm a soccer player.'"
Testo said he was "semi-open" about his orientation before this week, and that he has received nothing but support from teammates, who were messaging him Thursday as word spread.
About five years ago, he said he stopped taking slights from opponents personally, and operated on a premise that he would never react, and never let it affect his play.
He helped the Whitecaps to a championship in 2006, and was chosen Montreal's top player in 2009.
"We knew David's orientation prior to him joining our club from Vancouver in 2007," Impact president Joey Saputo said in a statement. "During his career in Montreal he has always been a professional and dedicated player to this club on and off the field. His decision to go public must have been a difficult one and we respect it."
Testo, who was released in October, has not filed retirement papers, but will not be continuing on with the Impact as the club makes the jump to MLS in 2012. He previously played parts of two seasons with Vancouver.
A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Testo also played for the MLS's Columbus Crew and the second-division Richmond Kickers during a 10-year career. The native of Asheville, N.C., said he wasn't sure whether he would continue his career, or look for a different occupation.
Testo, who owns a condo in Montreal, said he would only consider extending his soccer career if it's in a gay-friendly city. He said he is applying for permanent residency in Canada, in part because Montreal and Vancouver are "ahead of the trend" on that score.