“Why did it take so long?”
I haven’t had many moments to question my decision to be completely gay for the past couple of months as it has been totally affirming for me and I have the support from all corners of my life. But the only thing that bothers me is why did it take so long?
Since I’m totally out, I feel like I’m on a winning run with every conversation I have. I cannot describe how supportive the football community is.
For example, I wanted to talk to an ex-player of mine who became a good friend. He’s still in his twenties and he’s one of the youngest people I’ve talked to about going out. He’s from an affluent suburb, he played for me in the soccer academy, he went to a top university and then he joined the MLS.
Someone in another sport probably wouldn’t have this resume as welcoming and comprehensive, but after I went out with it, I got this text:
“JD for what it’s worth… You helped me become a professional. You helped me become a national champion. If you ever need anything, just let me know. I just want you to be happy. That’s what matters most.”
This is a microcosm of the support and love I have experienced and it says it all about football here in the US being inclusive and welcoming.
I’ve been in football for a generation, coaching, managing and managing elite-level teams and programs in Chicago. A football player, we say. I’ve been following the dream I had as a kid from the first moment I touched a ball at my foot and knew this game was my love and my passion. How many people in the world can say they are working in professional sports 15 minutes from where they grew up? I get goosebumps some days as I go to the stadium thinking about it.
I started coaching in college and did coaching in High School, Elite Club, College Prep, and Division Ievel. In 2001, I was appointed director of football for Chicago Fire’s U-23 PDL, which was the first development team for the Chicago MLS. We have developed over 100 players who have advanced to the professional ranks in the first 10 years of its existence and qualified for the North American Championship game in 2003 and 2009.
In 2008, I became Fire’s Director of Player Development to oversee all MLS club football programs under the MLS side. Through our academy system, there have been over 20 players who have applied to the MLS team in Fire, with the U-20 team winning national titles in 2008 and 2012. The academy became the first MLS development program to win the prestigious USSDA Championship in 2010 and 2015. It has helped Also working with MLS to promote player development in the United States
In 2017, I became president and director of football for the USL League Two franchise in Chicago, and I’ve been doing so ever since. In four years, we’ve had more players recruited at the professional level in North America than any other amateur team.
In addition, I have done consulting work for a number of expansion MLS clubs and in 2022 I became the managing partner of Peoria City FC USL-2. In the past 20 years of my business, more than 200 players have advanced to the professional ranks.
During the time my career was going well, I was creating booths for the rest of my life, because I was sure I was gay (or at least bisexual during my twenties through early thirties). The next stage was that I don’t have a personal life and just dive into work. The last stage before I went out to everyone was putting parts of my life into compartments – work, family, straight friends, gay friends, and finally gay relationships. Only a very small group of family and friends know my true self.
Putting things in compartments led to destructive behaviour. I haven’t been honest about my true self to most people in my career and a whole lot of my straight friends. I wasn’t honest with my gay friends because they thought I was out more than I was.
And when it comes to gay “relationships” (and I should put quotes about relationships because others may have thought they were real relationships when in fact they weren’t), I’d present a personal that isn’t always true as a way to impress him and/or hide who I am or what I did because I didn’t really want to get out in the football world. These “relationships” were always doomed because they were not built on the basic facts necessary for a strong and healthy relationship. I often looked for weak-willed or needy people because that made it easier for me to master the truth.
For me, I was dealing with expectations related to my background. I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago in a neighborhood where all of our parents were first responders to the city, mostly Irish and all Catholic. My father was a police detective and a basketball coach at our local community college; That’s how I got my training genes. I also had a large extended family, with lots of athletes, coaches, first responders, and teachers.
But it was my career that drove me to fragmentation. In sports, there is such an emphasis on strength and masculinity that being gay is seen as a weakness. Any athlete, coach, or participant at some level with a male sports team understands this. It horrified me to learn that my sexuality was against culture.
Over time I realized that you can be gay and masculine. I was finally ready to get out of that box saying you can’t be a gay male athletics guy who likes to be gay and all the cool stuff attached to it and it just happened.
i’m gay. I am manly. I work in sports. I love being gay. None of them define me individually, but they are all part of who I am. I’m pround of it. The love and support of everyone around us has made one of the happiest times of my life.
I remember a story recently that made me realize I did the right thing about getting out.
After a few days of telling my football friends about being gay, I went to meet one of my friends at a pub who already knew, to go watch Liverpool in the Champions League match (as a Manchester United fan, it can be hard to tell people I watched the Liverpool game from going out) .
As I walked in, I saw my friend was with someone else who used to coach me but didn’t know I was gay. I wasn’t necessarily ready for the “going out” conversation that day. But I went up to the table where they were sitting and asked him about the result of the match.
He said 2-0, and I said, “Damn, Liverpool are ready and I’m gay.” He got out of me easily. After two minutes of fist hits “Everything’s great” and “Happy for you”, we’re back to talking about the game.
As someone who has gone through this journey, one should never have to worry about being who they really are in the football world. Football culture here in the United States stems directly from our fan base, with some of the most diverse and forward-thinking fans of any professional sport here in North America.
I truly believe our fans are the most comprehensive of any sport here. But the locker room mentality still makes it difficult for players, coaches and others to get out, so we all have to remember to get out of that box we put ourselves in when we’re in sports.
I hope the story of my journey helps anyone who may have some of the same feelings or thoughts that I did. As someone who has been a mentor to many players and coaches, I would like to help anyone who needs someone to talk to.
John Dorn is the Chairman and Director of Football for USL League Two Chicago FC United and the former Director of Player Development for MLS Chicago Fire. He can be contacted via Instagram @jdorn14 And also on Twitter @jdorn14.
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