It’s often said that professional sports are the final frontier for the LGBT community in popular culture. We’ve written about out athletes like Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers as well as allies like Ben Cohen previously, but before they stepped into the national spotlight, another professional athlete was changing the conversation in sports: David Beckham.
The beautiful Brit ushered in the era of the metrosexual in the early 2000s, expanding the definition of masculinity throughout the popular discourse. The man credited with creating and naming the concept of the metrosexual, writer Mark Simpson, called Beckham the ultimate metrosexual, describing him in a controversial piece for Slate in 2002 as, “the biggest metrosexual in Britain because he loves being looked at and because so many men and women love to look at him.”
Beckham’s well-groomed visage became the sought-after face of many fashion and fitness campaigns, earning a rabid fanbase of admirers gay and straight. Even on this site, photos of his latest campaigns would draw lots of comments about his physique. Towleroad commenters were even featured in a book about Beckham in 2009. That same year, Beckham was voted the only straight man in the top 10 male gay icons.
Not that Beckham ever minded the attention. In 2008, he told British GQ: "To have that kind of effect on so many different people around the world, I was honoured. When people talk to me about being a gay icon I think of it as a great honour." He even famously appeared on the cover of U.K.’s gay magazine, Attitude (something he told the Times Magazine he’d do again).
It’s not all just about his buff body and bulging undie adverts. Author and journalist Chas Newkey-Burden described the effect of Beckham on sports:
“What David Beckham did was break the long silence about homosexuality in football," Newkey-Burden told CNN in 2013. "Before Beckham came along, it was basically a taboo but he changed all that. He openly courted his gay fan base, saying he loved being a gay icon and was happy for his wife to broadcast that around. He was the first to give interviews to gay magazines -- before that, no footballer would have done that.”
See some of our favorite Beckham moments (including some actual soccer), AFTER THE JUMP …