As the most followed volleyball player on Instagram, Douglas Souza is used to the spotlight. And the Olympic champion just added another medal to his resume.
Souza and his team, Farme Conde Volei, recently won the Brazil Supercup 2023, a national tournament featuring the best volleyball clubs in the country.
Fittingly, Souza celebrated on social media.
“That was everything!!!” he wrote. “A mega tough game against Sada, but the team’s performance, grip and determination brought us to the podium. Love, love, love!!!”
We love it whenever an out gay athlete shines! Souza made his Olympics debut at Rio 2016 in his native Brazil, and took home gold — instantly securing his spot among the game’s greats.
But the 28-year-old’s true star turn occurred five years later, when he became a social media phenomenon leading up to the Tokyo Games. Souza gifted his followers with BTS looks at the Olympic Village, and his spontaneous personality.
One of his popular videos showed him dancing on his teammate’s cardboard bed.
For Souza, it looks like there was never a dull moment.
Souza’s social media following exploded that summer when he went from around 260,000 followers to 2.2 million on Instagram in just four days! Today, his TikTok account has nearly 700,000 followers.
“I was shocked at the beginning,” Souza said in an interview. “It was very weird for me to see all those people following me out of nowhere. I was thinking: ‘Where are all these people coming from?’”
Many of his newfound followers were probably LGBTQ+ folx. Souza publicly came out as gay in 2020, and was one of 186 out athletes at the Tokyo Olympics.
“I want to be remembered as the first homosexual to play volleyball at a high level in Brazil,” he said at the time. “I want to be a mirror for everyone who feels non-standard. I am non-standard. I’m also extremely thin. If I, a skinny little boy from the interior of Sao Paulo did it, so will you. That’s how I want to be remembered.”
Souza is well on his way towards accomplish his goal. The three-time national champion is a huge star, appearing on Brazilian reality TV.
Can he sing as well as he spikes?
We’ll have to find out!
Wisely, he’s also used his following to rake in those influencer dollars.
It’s apparent Souza appreciates the support. In an interview with ESPN, he said the best part of coming out are the connections he’s made with others.
“The most rewarding thing, without a doubt, is all the support I get on social media,” he said. “Everything that happened in my career, especially after the Tokyo Olympics, where I got a lot of attention… I didn’t expect that. I get texts every day from many people saying that they identify with me. Some say that they are still afraid to come out to the world, that they struggle with parents, friends, that they are afraid — which is totally understandable in Brazil. We are trying to change it little by little, and we are getting there.”
Representation from athletes like Souza is one of the best ways to push for change. He uses his platform at important times, such as when one of his teammates was cut for making homophobic remarks about bi Superman.
Under a photo of Clark Kent’s son, Jonathan, kissing his boyfriend, the player implied seeing two men kiss could make kids homosexual.
“It’s funny that I didn’t ‘go straight’ seeing male superheroes kissing women,” he posted on social media. “If an image like that worries you, I’m sorry, but I have something new for your fragile heterosexuality. There will be a kiss, yes. Thank you, DC [Comics], for thinking of representing all of us, not just a part.”
Souza did invite controversy in September 2021, when he said he and his boyfriend experienced anti-gay discrimination at an airport in the Netherlands. He said they were questioned for five hours before being allowed to travel home.
The country’s authorities, however, offered a different version of events. They said there was a travel ban between Brazil and the Netherlands, which prompted the heightened scrutiny.
But over the last two years, Souza has continued to stand out. Best of all, he includes his boyfriend, Gabriel, in the action.
Most of all, Souza says he wants LGBTQ+ people, and Brazilians in particular, to know they’re not alone.
“I think we have to live with love, love those who are around us,” he said. “Find your community, because it is big and very supportive. When you are ready and feeling good about it, you will not be alone.”
By being visible, Souza is fulfilling his role… just like on the court.