‘Now for Britain’s first gay footballer’

Pioneers: Four openly gay sporting stars — but no male footballers.

The chairman of the FA has said it would be ‘impossible’ for a gay football player to come out. Homosexuality has been legal for 49 years, so why has football not moved with the times?

There are no openly gay players in the top four leagues of English and Scottish football.

Not one. Let us think about that for a moment.

The Professional Footballers’ Association has 4,000 members. If we take the claim in the Kinsey reports — yes, it is much disputed — that around 10% of people are gay or bisexual, there are 400 footballers who are concealing a huge secret. Even if that number is an exaggeration, you would still expect a healthy number of the 4,000 to be openly gay. And yet none are.

Appearing before a select committee, the FA chairman Greg Clarke said he felt ‘ashamed’ about this. He believes that the main reason players do not come out is a ‘very small minority of people who hurl vile abuse at people who they perceive are different’. Football crowds, he says, are where ‘bad people get brave’.

Sadly, homophobic chanting is still quite common at British football grounds. Research commissioned by the Stonewall charity revealed last month that 72% of supporters at live sport events had heard homophobic abuse in the last five years. Football fans were the most likely to come across such abuse.

But in other fields, such as acting and politics, attitudes have changed thanks to several famous people coming out. The mob mentality could work in another way, with the tolerant majority shouting down the intolerant minority.

It takes a brave person to be a pioneer, though. The player in question would be besieged by phone-calls from newspapers asking for interviews. His face would be spread across the front and back pages, and what seems now to be perfectly natural would start to feel unnatural. If the player is shy and just wants to get on with playing football, would he be prepared to put up with all the scrutiny?

Gareth Thomas, a Welsh rugby player who came out in 2009, said ‘I know how hard it is to be honest about something like this when you’re in the public eye’.

And so we are still waiting. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of professional footballers out there in the world who, in 2016, are still weighing up whether coming out as gay would harm their career.

Pride and prejudice

Some say that high-profile gay footballers have a duty to come out. They are role models for every young football fan who is nervous about admitting to their sexuality. Once a player has come out, the stigma will be lifted and we will see a great rush of players following his lead. It only takes one.

Being gay is a profoundly personal matter, say others. It is up to the player to decide on the right time to come out. Aggressive media clamour for an LGBT trend-setter would only discourage those players from finally saying ‘I am gay’. Let’s leave it up to them.

You Decide

  1. If you were a gay footballer, would you come out?
  2. What do you think would be the reaction from a football crowd to an openly gay footballer?

Activities

  1. Design a poster raising awareness about homophobic abuse in sport.
  2. Choose any sport other than men’s football and write a piece on how accepting of homosexuality it has generally been.

Some People Say...

“A person’s sexuality is an entirely personal matter.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So is football particularly bad?
Well homophobic abuse is more common at football matches than at any other sporting event, but that may be more to do with the tribal nature of football fans. But even in sports with a more genteel following like cricket, tennis and rugby the number of openly gay male players is vanishingly small. In women’s sport things are much better.
I’m gay but I haven’t told anyone. What should I do?
It may be helpful to confide in family or friends, but only if you are happy to trust in them. You should be able to get good advice from a teacher or your GP. It would be useful to investigate the guidance available online from organisations such as the NHS or the charity Stonewall. The Day has informative and objective articles on this issue available in its archive.

Word Watch

Openly gay
Some footballers who used to play in England, such as Thomas Hitzlsperger, have come out as gay after retiring from football.
Professional Footballers’ Association
The trade union for professional footballers, usually abbreviated to PFA.
Kinsey reports
Two books, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male (1948) and in the Human Female (1953), were ground breaking studies written by Alfred Kinsey of Indiana University (and others), the founder of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction.
Disputed
Some think Kinsey’s 10% estimate too high, others too low; but one of his key theses was that homosexuality is on a sliding scale, rather than being a binary issue.
Homophobic chanting
Brighton and Hove Albion fans are often subjected to homophobic taunts thanks to Brighton’s status as the ‘gay capital of Britain’.

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