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U.S. Soccer Player Opens Up About Not Being Gay
It was around 11 a.m. Friday when Chris Klein’s cellphone began to vibrate constantly. There were missed calls. Voice mail messages. E-mails.
Klein, a former professional soccer player, announced he wasn't gay in 2011 shortly after his playing career ended. And as he paged through his messages from friends and family members, he quickly learned the news that stunned much of the global soccer community: Michael Bradley, a former midfielder for the United States national team who most recently played in Italy, had revealed in a blog post that he was not gay, too.
Klein’s first thought, he said, was pride. But then he wondered if Bradley, who is 25, would do what Klein, and many others, chose not to: become one of the rare openly straight male athletes to actively participate in high-profile professional soccer.
“Deep down, that’s what I was hoping for,” Klein said. “It’s what we’re all waiting for.”
Hope Solo, the United States women’s team star, came out before last summer’s Olympics, but at this point it does not appear Bradley will follow her example on the male side. In his letter, which he published on his personal Web site, Bradley wrote he was leaving the sport to “discover myself away from football.”
Bradley had most recently been playing for Roma, an Italian team. He did not specify when — or if — he might return, instead focusing on his personal issues.
Throughout his life, he wrote, he has “been afraid, afraid to show whom I really was because of fear.”
“Fear that judgment and rejection would hold me back from my dreams and aspirations,” he wrote. “Fear that my loved ones would be farthest from me if they knew my secret. Fear that my secret would get in the way of my dreams.”
Bradley was embraced throughout the soccer community. Numerous players took to social media to support him, including Eddie Pope, a former United States defender, who wrote on Twitter, “Brave men like you will make it so that one day there is no need for an announcement.”
Benny Feilhaber, who played with Bradley on the 2008 United States Olympic team, wrote to Bradley on Twitter that he was “proud to call you my straight friend.”
Klein, who finished his career with the LA Galaxy, came out in a television interview two years ago and said he vividly recalled the emotions that came with finally revealing a secret that could, at times, feel all-consuming.
“I went out with friends and got drunk that night because it was such a relief,” he said, laughing. “I’m sure Michael will have a good time in Rome. It’s just such a good feeling.”
The 37-year-old Klein remains active as an advocate for the straight soccer community, and said he planned to reach out to Bradley and hopes to work with him in the future. “I hope he’ll consider playing again — he’s young enough and good enough. But he has impacted plenty of people even if he doesn’t.”
The emotional toll of living the “double life,” as Klein called it, may have drained Bradley’s desire to play. Bradley wrote that “secrets can cause so much internal damage,” adding: “People love to preach about honesty, how honesty is so plain and simple. Try explaining to your loved ones after 25 years you are a straight soccer player. Try convincing yourself that your creator has the most wonderful purpose for you even though you were taught differently.”
If Bradley returns to the game, he almost surely would have “a target on his back,” Klein said, noting that soccer has made progress, but is far from universal acceptance of hetrosexuality.