Oct 15, 2010

Football’s last taboo... Gay Players

By Richard French

Of all the footballers in the United Kingdom, not one is Gay. Either you believe that or you admit that the game is closed off to openly homosexual men and that there are plenty who live secretive lives in the ‘closet’.

Football supporters, especially in Britain, are obsessed with the chest-thumping, hard-tackling warriors who define what it is to be a man, meaning that there is no room in the game for the stereotypical ‘camp’ male. The fact is, however, that whilst TV personalities may purposely emasculate themselves, not all gay men are the antithesis of masculinity.

Gareth Thomas is the most capped player in Welsh Rugby Union history, former captain of the British and Irish Lions and a hugely respected player in a Rugby mad part of the world. He also happens to be gay.

Does that mean he is any less of a man than Cristiano Ronaldo?

It is practically a statistical impossibility that there are no gays amongst the 4,000 registered players in England and Wales, with an estimated 2 million of the 30 million strong UK workforce thought to be. Furthermore Paul Elliott, the former Chelsea defender and campaigner for diversity in sport, has said in the past that he knows of at least 12 professionals who are homosexual.

The tragic case of Justin Fashanu will always hang over the heads of players flirting with the idea of coming out. Fashanu sold his story to The Sun in 1990, but committed suicide in 1998 after years of abuse from the terraces and in the dressing room and a grave lack of respect for his privacy. He claimed that large parts of the article in tabloid were erroneous and focussed on sordid details which had little relevance to the issue he was trying to highlight.

Fashanu was 37, and any players thinking of making the bold move to express their sexuality will have certainly been put off by his death.

However, 2010 is a different era to the 1980s and 90s, and despite publicist Max Clifford’s view that “football remains in the dark ages, steeped in homosexuality”, fans and players alike would not take long to adapt to the presence of gay players.

If not in the lower divisions then certainly in the corporate dominated Premier League, any abuse directed towards a known homosexual would be frowned upon as much as racist language. Racial abuse has thankfully largely been eradicated from British grounds and has been a criminal offence since the Football Offences Act (1991) and its subsequent amendments.

Why is it that football is so far behind other workplaces with regards to sexuality? Investment banking is a notoriously ‘macho’ industry, yet in recent years it has become much more acceptable for people to express themselves. The irony of the situation is that the British armed forces has openly gay people carrying out what are perceived as ‘manly’ tasks on a day to day basis whilst serving in Afghanistan, yet the idea of a gay centre forward would be wrong to some.

There is also an argument that supporters, colleagues and the general public do not need to know the sexuality of players, and it is a valid one. Where do we draw the line with delving into the private lives of these stars? It seems there is an insatiable lust for gossip surrounding the sport at the moment, with most of the country able to name the most high-profile ‘WAGs’ of the England national team.

On the other hand, if we ‘need’ to know what the John Terrys of this world get up to, perhaps there is this mutated form of necessity to know to sexual preference of the players, too.

Many stars would perhaps see coming out as having a negative impact on their future career, but with an estimated annual £60 billion gay economy in the UK, could a gay player in fact be used to sell more shirts? Could it open clubs up to a whole new market?

This remains to be seen, though with the right marketing and the change in attitudes in Britain in the last few decades, it is a wonder why the money dominated world of football isn’t already grasping at the ‘pink pound’.

It will take one high profile player with thick skin to break this last taboo. If a popular star such as a Steven Gerrard or Joe Cole was to come out, it would start the process of finally making football the universally available sport it should be. Everybody should have the right to play the game regardless of colour, wealth, disability or sexuality.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post, I wrote about this on my blog a while back:

Please, take a look.

But I think your observation about the gay economy is a very good point, clubs could genuinely gain from a player coming out!

If one homosexual or bisexual footballer were to 'come out' it may encourage others to do the same. So many youngsters look up to these players, if it's accepted in football then society would follow- I'm thinking how well racism has been eradicated from the game over the past few years and how society seems to have mirrored that change.

All that said, it's still very easy for anyone to observe from afar that gay footballers should go public with their sexuality, after all they have their own welfare to think about.

Anonymous said...

Whether or not we need to know is one thing, and the player to some extent should decide whether the general public should know.

As your story with JF showed that choice wasn't there. Players need to feel that they would be accepted and then they have that freedom of choice.

Until the football community can make homosexual players feel comfortable expressing those feelings then players will remain in the closet whether they really want to be there or not.

Anonymous said...

interesting piece. Whilst Justin Fashanu's suicide was probably more complex than simply a sexuality issue it was obviously a major factor. He was shunned by his brother and treated disgracefully by some managers, most notably Brian Clough who publicly ridiculed and ostracised him.

In a sport where even unfounded rumours can damage a career (Graeme Le Saux comes to mind) it would be good to see some more brave guys stick their heads over the parapet. Once a few have, maybe more will follow to the point where it is hardly even newsworthy.

chris said...

Unless I'm mistaken sol Campbell has admired to being homosexual can't see anything bad about that coming out

Anonymous said...

@Chris re. Sol Campbell:

You are mistaken.

Richard French