Players PromiseSep 13, 2018

Sacha Kljestan and Athlete Ally

After playing professionally for 13 years, Sacha Kljestan has evolved both on and off the field. After playing at Seton Hall, Kljestan got his start in 2005 in the USL Premiere Development League. From there, he went on to Chivas USA before joining Anderlecht of the Belgian Pro League. After several successful seasons in Belgium,  Kljestan returned to the MLS in 2015 and signed with the New York Red Bulls. He currently plays for Orlando City and has 5 goals in 21 appearances for the club. Throughout his career, Kljestan also represented his country on the US men's national team, and was a member of the 2008 Olympic team. 

As Kljestan adjusted to his professional status, he became more comfortable in his role as a public figure and with the power that provides to be a leader in one's community. Kljestan has joined forces with Athlete Ally, which fights for equality for the LGBTQ community in the sports world. 

Q: Is being involved something that has always been important to you throughout your career?

No, when I was younger I was just focused on being the best player I could be. As I got older and became more comfortable being seen as a role model, I understood that I could use my platform to help and inspire. 

Q: Can you describe your role with Athlete Ally?

I am an ambassador for Athlete Ally, which basically means we try to use our leadership to champion LGBTQ equality. 

Q: How did you learn about the organization? What inspired you to get involved?

I was put in touch with them through Kay Rawlins from Orlando City SC. She introduced me them and we spoke about being an ambassador the program and I was all for it. 

Q: You’ve been playing professionally for 13 years, how have you seen the soccer world improve in terms of equality?

First, I think that MLS has done a great job of promoting equality in our league through their "Don't Cross The Line" campaign lately. A big step for our league and sport was when Robbie Rogers came out of retirement to play for LA Galaxy.  Leagues across the world have shown their support of the LGBTQ community by having certain events (Pride Night).  All of that is great to see, because this is something that we were not discussing a lot 13 years ago. 

Q: How can others get involved, what can people do to help?

All it takes is being accepting of everyone and our differences! We are all human beings and we all deserve to be treated with equality.

In their own words, Athlete Ally  "educates athletic communities at all levels — sport governing bodies, teams, and individual athletes — to understand obstacles to inclusion for LGBTQ people in sports and how they can build inclusive communities on their teams or within their organizations." The movement was started after Hudson Taylor, a three time All-American wrestler at the University of Maryland made the decision to start wearing an LGBTQ equality sticker on his headgear. This sparked national attention and conversations regarding equality, and inspired Taylor to start Athlete Ally. 

Athlete Ally doesn't just advocate for LGBTQ rights, it also puts in the groundwork to create change. The organization holds training with both collegiate and professional sports programs, and works with their ambassadors in professional leagues around the country to host events like Pride Night. Currently, the organization is building towards launching an online curriculum that will provide teams with resources on how to build an environment that promotes equality for all. 

You can follow Sacha on Twitter and Instagram, and learn more about Athlete Ally on their website