Homosexuality has undoubtedly come a long way as far as acceptance is concerned. It is illegal for gay people to be discriminated against in the workplace under the Equality Act 2010. In the UK, the armed forces have allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly since 2000. And whilst of course there are no shortage of – and I’m sorry to be awfully stereotypical – gay hairdressers, musicians and theatre directors, there are also a growing number of gay builders, plumbers and joiners, all jobs that are seen as the height of masculinity that were once out of reach for us ‘gays’.
However, sport is a different kind of ball game, football in particular (pun 100% intended). Can any of you honestly name a football player that you know, with absolute certainty, to be gay? With the exception of Robbie Rogers, who will get another mention later in this article, the answer is no, because there isn’t one. It’s easy to assume that someone is gay – remember the comments that Tom Daley received when he came out last year? – but until it’s actually confirmed by the person, no one really knows and it’s also no one’s business to speculate.
There have only been four footballers who have publicly come out as gay. Anton Hysen waited until he retired in 2011 before he revealed his sexuality. Former Leeds United player Robbie Rogers immediately quit football after coming out in 2013 (though a few months later he joined LA Galaxy and went on to become the first gay athlete to win a big-time pro sports title). German footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger also waited until his retirement before coming out in 2014. The first player to ever come out, Justin Fashanu, who chose to do it early in his career, killed himself in 1998, eight years after his announcement.
Are you seeing the same pattern I’m seeing?
The fact is, homophobia is a huge problem when it comes to football. Freddie Ljungberg and the pin-up boy himself David Beckham often publicly announce their support for the gay community, often posing for provocative photoshoots in magazines and appearing at LGBT events, and Matt Jarvis became only the third footballer to appear in Attitude magazine in 2013, but is this a problem for the players, or the fans? You only have to hear the throwing around of words like ‘woofter’ and ‘faggot’ around the terraces to know how much further football has to progress before it will accept a gay player, and the rise of the ‘lad’ culture, with it’s bravado and ‘banter’, has made it increasingly difficult for any kind of leeway.
Football is without question the worst culprit for its attitude towards homosexuality. Of course, it’s not the only sport with issues accepting it or embracing it, but rugby has Gareth Thomas, who since coming out in 2009 has been a huge campaigner for homosexuality in sports, basketball has John Amaechi and Jason Collins, who made history by becoming the first active male athlete in major American sport to be gay, and even boxing has seen Orlando Cruz make his homosexuality public.
So will football ever be completely free from homophobia? Sadly, it’s unlikely. It was revealed last year by Clarke Carlisle, the chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, that eight players had approached him to disclose that they were gay. So why are they so scared to come out? Look at Justin Fashanu. Once they knew he was gay, the dressing room and management saw it as something they could use against him. Unable to take the mounting pressure and stigma, he killed himself. And that’s the harsh reality.
It’s clear that things need to change. Homosexuality isn’t a passing phase, and someone’s sexuality and their desire to kick a ball around a field shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. But as of right now, it doesn’t appear that anyone is really listening.
‘Football is an amazing sport,’ Robbie Rogers told an interviewer in 2013. ‘But it is also a brutal sport that picks people up and slams them on their heads.’
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