Former Montreal Impact midfielder David Testo jumps over Toronto FC's… (Graham Hughes / Associated…)
When David Testo went on Canadian television last month and said he is gay, he was not prepared for the reaction his confession would inspire.
"All positive," he said by phone from Montreal. "It was just really surprising, to be honest.
"I didn't really expect to have this kind of echo. It kind of blew my mind — all the positivity and support and well-wishes. I just can't believe it."
Testo, 30, has played 41/2 seasons as a midfielder for the Montreal Impact in the North American Soccer League, and the Impact will be an expansion franchise next season in Major League Soccer.
But the testosterone-driven, alpha-male world of sports hasn't always been understanding when it comes to race, gender or sexual orientation. Which may explain why Testo is the first active male athlete in a major U.S.-based professional league to come out.
And international soccer isn't much more accepting.
Shortly before last summer's women's World Cup, Nigeria Coach Eucharia Uche said she had spent two years trying to rid her team of lesbians, calling homosexuality "a dirty issue" that was "morally very wrong." Before that the president of the Croatian soccer federation promised that gays would never play for the national team because "only healthy people play football."
Nor, in fact, did FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar despite the country's ban on homosexuality. Gay players, fans and officials would just have to "refrain from any sexual activities" during the tournament, Blatter said.
Testo grew up in North Carolina and went to school in South Carolina, the buckle of the Bible Belt. And though he came out to his mother four years ago, he says he still wonders "if my whole family accepts it."
The talk with his mother came after two unspectacular seasons with MLS' Columbus Crew and a middling stint with the U-23 U.S. national team, where he played alongside Galaxy captain Landon Donovan.
Unburdened after the confession to his mother, Testo went on to have his best season as a pro with the Impact. A year later his teammates — many of whom also knew his secret — gave him the team's MVP award.
But if Testo was no longer in the closet he wasn't openly gay either. That changed when Jamie Hubley, a 15-year-old figure skater from Ottawa, committed suicide after being bullied at school.
"Where I'm at in my life and [with] the support group that I have, I felt now was a good time to kind of just stand up and be an example," says Testo, who has been the subject of anti-gay slurs on the field. "It just got to a point where we've got to normalize this. We've got to show that there's a lot of us out there. And it's not a choice.
"It's something that we have to deal with and make it better for the ones coming up in the younger generation."
That resonated with Billy Bean, a former Dodgers and San Diego Padres player, who became a gay rights activist when he retired after six emotionally trying seasons as a closeted big league outfielder.
"He's done something very generous and brave," Bean says of Testo. "At the very least David is going to inspire others. We have kids who need positive, strong images."
That courage could wind up costing Testo his soccer career, though. The midfielder is coming off a season in which he played just 22 matches — his lowest total in six seasons. And for the first time in his career had neither a goal nor an assist.
Although club officials say they have known Testo was gay for years and were supportive of last month's decision, four weeks earlier they had released him — along with the rest of the roster — in preparation for the Impact's accession into MLS.
Testo has an interview with the Impact on Monday and would like to stay in Montreal. But Bean worries that Testo's outspokenness may give the team — and other professional soccer clubs — reason not to sign him.
"No one's going to come out and say it," says Bean. "They can come up with a million reasons."
That may have been true when Bean retired 16 years ago but it isn't necessarily the case now. Testo says there probably will be a couple of opportunities for him outside Montreal. And Outsports.com is reporting that openly gay Swedish player Anton Hysen also could be headed to MLS, most likely with Vancouver.
It would be sad if being true to himself means Testo has to give up soccer, the only thing he's ever known. But listening to him, it's clear that would be the sport's loss, not his.
"The world has a lot of catching up to do," he says. "Maybe someone else who's bigger, in a bigger sport, might come forward. And it's only going to propel the momentum and help it continue in the right direction where it becomes normal.
"I couldn't be more happy. If I could help one person — which I know it has — that was the goal in the whole thing."