Say ‘Gay’ and the beautiful game gets ugly

Steven Davies has become the first professional cricketer to admit he's gay. He waited five years: why has it taken so long?

Football is sometimes called 'The Beautiful Game'. But it isn't beautiful if you're gay.

Justin Fashanu was the first £1 million black footballer when he signed for Nottingham Forest in 1981. He is also the only professional player so far to admit to being gay, and his story explains why: shunned by both fellow professionals and family, he committed suicide in an East London garage, aged 37.

'I wouldn't like to play or get changed in the same vicinity as him,' said his football playing brother, John at the time. 'So if I'm like that, I'm sure all the other footballers are like that.'

Gay women in sport have had more role models, with world champion tennis player Martina Navratilova an obvious example. But gay men in sport have tended to admit their sexuality only after retiring.

John Amaechi, the American basketball player, came out publicly in 2007, four years after he stopped playing. 'When is a good time to announce it to the world?' he asked. 'When you are a sportsman there's no good time.'

Against this backdrop, Steven Davies yesterday became the first professional cricketer to reveal that he's gay. 'This is the right time for me,' he said, from the England camp in India, where they're taking part in the limited overs World Cup.

'I feel it is right to be out in the open about my sexuality. If more people do it, the more acceptable it will become.'

Hiding things had made him feel uncomfortable in the dressing room, he said, and he feared people asking about his love life.

Yet when he told his team mates before their recent Ashes trip to Australia, they were supportive. As fast bowler Jimmy Anderson said, 'If there are any gay cricketers they should feel confident about coming out, because I don't think there is homophobia in cricket.'

Even so, Davies has bided his time. He came out to his family five years ago.

Pioneers
Homosexuality appears to be the last taboo in male sport. Politicians, celebrities and priests can be openly gay – but sportsmen cannot. They must be testosterone-fuelled heterosexuals or keep very quiet.

One of the first to welcome Davies' decision was Gareth Thomas, currently the only openly gay Rugby player. 'I know how hard it is to be honest about something like this when you're in the public eye,' he said, speaking from experience, after he came out two years ago.

But for each sportsman who does go public, perhaps another ray of light fills the darkness that led Justin Fashanu to such a lonely end.

You Decide

  1. John Amaechi recalls being called both a 'nigger' and a 'faggot'. How do these insults compare? Is the second just harmless banter? Or are they no different?
  2. Why do you think football is the last bastion of homophobia?

Activities

  1. Create a poster/graphic against bigotry in sport, perhaps particularly football. A beautiful game?
  2. Research attitudes to gay rights around the world, best and worst? Which countries display the least discrimination and which the most?

Some People Say...

“All gay sportsmen should come out. Today.”

What do you think?

Q & A

It's hard to believe what John Fashanu said about his brother.
It is, yes and his manager Brian Clough was no better. In his autobiography, Clough recounts a dressing down he gave Fashanu after hearing rumours he was going to gay bars. 'Where do you go if you want a loaf of bread?' I asked him. 'A baker's, I suppose.' 'Where do you go if you want a leg of lamb?' 'A butcher's.' 'So why do you keep going to that bloody poofs' club?'
Those were different times.
Maybe, but there hasn't been an openly gay professional footballer since then - remarkable, when probably on an average football pitch, a couple of guys will be gay.
But perhaps things are changing slowly?
Well, as Gareth Thomas said when he came out two years ago, 'Everyone says life has moved on so let's test it out.' That's what Davies is doing.

Subjects

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