RIO DE JANEIRO — Douglas Braga left his home in rural southeastern Brazil when he was 12, moving to Rio de Janeiro to pursue the Brazilian dream and become a professional soccer player.
Training up to eight hours a day, he had to drop out of high school. He turned professional when he was 16, and at 18 was signed as a goalie by Botafogo, one of the main Rio teams in Brazil’s premier league.
Three years later, in between contracts, Braga spent some time away from the game. And he met someone — his first boyfriend.
“Playing soccer, I didn’t really know or accept that I was gay, even to myself,” he said.
When his agent contacted him to talk about new contract options, he decided that now that he was openly gay, he couldn’t return to professional soccer.
With the most World Cup titles in soccer history, Brazil is the self-labeled país do futebol, the country of soccer. And while the sport is by far Brazil’s most popular, it is traditionally associated here and throughout Latin America with a culture of machismo: a game for straight men, rife with homophobic slurs. Women are strongly discouraged from playing and often ridiculed when they do. For LGBT people, soccer has generally been considered out of the question.
“It didn’t even cross my mind to play soccer professionally and be openly gay,” Braga said. “You really just can’t.”
Even rumors of homosexuality have caused trouble. In 2013, the pro player Emerson Sheik posted an Instagram photo of himself kissing a male friend, prompting protests in which men held signs that insulted gay people or read, “This is a place for men.” In 2007, Richarlyson, another pro player, filed a criminal complaint after his team’s director insinuated that he was gay in a television interview. The judge dismissed the case, saying that soccer is “virile, masculine and not homosexual.”
After coming out, Braga didn’t play soccer for 10 years.
Then he heard about LiGay, an LGBT soccer movement that has spread throughout Brazil since it started this year. He participated in the group’s first official tournament, the Champions LiGay, in November. Read more via Washington Post