Last year, soccer player David Testo became the first active male professional athlete in North America to come out as gay.
He told about his life in the closet in astonishing detail for Leander Schaerlaeckens’ SB Nation feature Out of Bounds, which came out today.
[Editor’s note: I was able to speak with Leander throughout his process of writing the story. His passion for getting it right and making sure it was perfect to his specific view of how it should be told came through in abudance.]
Some commentary on the piece by the author below.
TSG: Leander, what’s the background on this story getting told and take us through what the story meant for you to tell.
Schaerlaeckens: This is easily the longest I’ve both pursued and worked on a story.
I first reached out to David in the weeks after he came out last November. I was going to write it for ESPN.com. He was keen but by the time he was coming to New York for a gala, he’d been so overwhelmed by media attention that he’d sort of run out of energy for interviews. We played phone tag for a few days and then decided to shelve it for a little while. In the spring, when the hubbub had died down some, we talked again and he said he still wanted to do the story. I’d left ESPN by then and pitched it to a few places and got an especially keen response from Best American Sports Writing series editor Glenn Stout, who was heading up SB Nation’s new Longform section.
The opportunity to work with him was hard to pass up. So I went to Montreal for three days and David and I talked most of each day. We developed a closeness that I hadn’t anticipated. His story was so very personal, and he was telling it so honestly, that it quickly stopped being interviewer-interviewee and just became two guys talking about life. That’s the place they tell you to get to with interviews but you hardly ever achieve. It also meant that I became closer to the story than I probably should have been.
But, more than anything, it made me want to get it right.
And to tell it warts and all. David was clear that he was doing this in hopes of helping others who might be in a similar predicament. As he said in the piece, “I wish I’d had someone like me.” And I thought that was the best way to achieve it. I would have done him or his story no favors by dulling the edges of his experiences. So in some places it’s quite harsh and that was hard to do. There were a lot of times where I wondered if I was taking it too far. I was relieved to get a text from David earlier today saying he was happy with it. I’ve always tried not to care what my subjects think about my story but it’s hard not to. We’d all like to be liked. And especially in this case, where you’ve essentially become somebody’s biographer, you just hope to be accurate.
This was an important story to me. As a Dutchman I like to think I come from a slightly more tolerant (or is it indifferent?) society than the one I now proudly call home. I grew up thinking gay was okay. I’ve had fascinating discussions about how rare this is with my wife, who is as liberal as I am but went to a tough urban high school in New York where it was decidedly not. Some of my mother’s closest friends are gay. So to me it was natural. And a part of me remains appalled that not more athletes feel they can be themselves openly. If this story makes one gay athlete feel better about him or herself, I think David and me would both be ecstatic with how all this turned out.