Evan Villella represents the community he loves in the league and sport he loves to cover.
My friend Evan Villella is a man of many traits. He’s a talented writer, the host of The USL Show podcast, and has a decent sense of humor on Twitter. Villella also happens to be a gay man, and he’s just as proud of that as he is anything else. “I kinda came to terms with myself when I was 17 or so and fully just came out right around 18. Honestly for me at that point, it was very much a take it or leave it stance that I took,” Evan says. “I felt like (and still feel) that if people don’t accept me for who I am fully, that’s their right but I’m not going to change who I am or what I believe in to make a few extra friends if that means compromising myself in the process.”
As with most other sports, soccer has a small amount of openly gay players, coaches or other personnel. Robbie Rogers, the former LA Galaxy player, notably came out in 2013. When asked if there were other homosexual men playing professional soccer in the United States, Evan answers, “I don’t know of any, but odds are probably decent?” He adds, “Robbie is a great ambassador for the game and the LGBT community, which is awesome but I mean the pressure on that guys’ shoulders, especially at first, must be tremendous. We all know that feeling of not wanting to burden other people or have that “well the worst case is I get outcasted from this place” kind of feeling. It must have been magnified ten fold for him. Hats off to him because I’m sure it wasn’t easy in the slightest. Definitely a role model for me for sure.”
Evan’s actually relatively new to the sport he loves. “It really clicked for me around 2011 or 2012 or so. That being said, I saw my first pro match in 2013 which was Manchester City vs Chelsea from Yankee Stadium in 2013 and just really fell in love with it. USL followed when I just haphazardly agreed to write for Brotherly Game about a then unknown project that turned into Bethlehem Steel and it’s been a huge passion of mine to grow the game, however I can,” he says.
Thankfully, he hasn’t encountered any negativity in soccer due to his sexuality. “Honestly, it’s not something that I mention when I talk to players or anything for the first time, but I’m pretty sure I’m as out as I can be at this point and the reactions are pretty positive. My current boyfriend was a decent soccer player and some games, I think some of the guys in Bethlehem would much rather talk to him for the banter than me for the media,” he jokes. “It’s not one of those things where I crave acceptance and if everyone just goes about life as if I’m just another reporter that’s fine, but it is important to me to use my platform to tell people not to be afraid of who they love or what they are.”
A lot of the love Evan gets is from hosting The USL Show, a podcast about the league featuring writers across the country. “Yeah, man, every day the responses we get on Twitter or just kind of in general is crazy. I’ve always really cherished the relationships I’ve made throughout the league, whether it be with players or front office staff or fellow media members because everyone really is just trying to get word out that the USL is for real and worth the time it takes to watch a game or two,” says Villella. “I really don’t like to pat myself on the back or anything like that, so the whole experience with the show has been humbling and without the input and support from a lot of people behind the scenes that just wanted us to keep getting better, we certainly wouldn’t be where we are.”
At the intersection of being gay and loving soccer is Playing For Pride. After seeing him tweet about it, I asked Evan what exactly it is. He responds, “I’ll actually be sitting down with the guy that organized it, North Carolina midfielder Austin De Luz this week so look for that. But, in short, it’s all about raising awareness for the LGBT community through soccer! He’ll explain this so much better then I ever could, but the basic idea is players sign up for the Playing for Pride and then make donations based on what happens, with general public matching donations.”
“I won’t break down the donations here in case they change, but check out https://www.crowdrise.com/playing-for-pride/fundraiser/austinda-luz for what went down last year as well as @PlayingforPride on Twitter. It’s really awesome to see some big names in the US Soccer community commit to something like that and I’m incredibly excited to really figure out what made Austin so eager to start a campaign like that. All proceeds go to the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) which is probably my favorite nonprofit with the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) as a close second for what it’s worth.”
While Evan is open and confident in his sexuality, there are children and adults around the world struggling to come out. Evan has advice for all those people out there “Selfishness is a very dirty word in that a lot of people only see the negative connotations that it has. One of the better pieces of advice I ever got was when someone told me that there was a good kind of selfish and that I had to go and find it,” he says. “This isn’t a day long change and it took me years to get from really scared, depressed anxious kid to kind of less anxious, soccer writer who is comfortable being gay online and in person. Everything has peaks and valleys and there will be some loss. The more you figure out about yourself now, the more you can understand and appreciate the people that are friends with you because they want to help you develop into the best person you can be. Honestly my DMs are open on Twitter (@villellabsfc) and completely off record (when it comes to actual life stuff at least) so if anyone is struggling with anything, feel free to reach out.”
I’m proud to call Evan a friend and I can’t think of a better person to bring awareness to the LGBT community around the soccer world than him. As they say, E.L.E., Everyone Love Everyone, no matter their race, sexuality, or current circumstances. If we all do that, this country will be a better place to live for all of us.