By: Matthew Pacifici, Athlete Ally Ambassador and Retired Major League Soccer goalkeeper
I grew up in North Carolina, and started playing soccer when I was four years old. While I was playing at my small, conservative Southern college, I started to realize my path was hitting a crossroad.. I told myself I would come out when I graduated. But then in my last two seasons at Davidson College, I gained some recognition, was named an All-American my junior year, and realized that going pro wasn’t just a dream anymore. Post-graduation, I signed as a goalkeeper with the Columbus Crew SC in Major League Soccer.
I had worked hard my entire life to get to this point, and thought I didn’t have a choice between coming out and playing pro. I didn’t want to jeopardize this amazing opportunity, and so I decided to keep my personal life private. At the same time, though, I was looking to see if there were any other like-minded MLS players. At the time, I only knew of Robbie Rogers. I didn’t want to be singled out, and thought I needed to stay under the radar. I realize now that deciding to keep quiet about who I am perpetuated the same problem I was experiencing during my playing days.
My career plans were entirely derailed, though, when I got injured and was forced to retire at 23. At the time, I was devastated. But this injury was also a gift—it gave me a moment of respite to self-reflect and explore who I truly was. For the first time, I was able to be honest with myself. I believe many others in the LGBTQ community have also struggled with trying to convince themselves that they should lead the kind of life society tells us is normal.
Today, I am excited to open up and live vulnerably, for many reasons. No one should have to live a life that is not 100% authentic to them. I also realize that, statistically speaking, I’ve likely had teammates who have had a similar experience. I want to say something so that all LGBTQ people, and athletes in particular, feel like they have the freedom to be who they are in all parts of their life.
I’m excited to be an Athlete Ally Pro Ambassador and to help end stereotypes about the LGBTQ community. Many people seem to believe it’s impossible to be LGBTQ and an athlete, and this often comes down to perceived masculinity, and what that word means to each person. I’ve been fortunate to play with and against some of the most talented soccer players the world has to offer, and I can say first-hand, “masculinity” is not a common denominator. Athletes come in all forms, genders and sexualities, and often times, that’s what makes them so valuable.
I also believe there is an uncanny strength in numbers. I’d love to see the normalization of LGBTQ athletes, but this is only possible as more and more athletes become willing and able to to express themselves without restraint. I hope that younger LGBTQ athletes realize that coming out is not only possible, but a way to live a happier, more fulfilling life.
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