Before I truly begin this article, I would just like to start by saying that I realise how much of a sensitive subject this can be, and thus this article is not intended to offend or discriminate against anyone. I am attempting to merely discuss the issues that surround homosexuality within football, and while I appreciate anyone’s personal opinion on the subject, abusive and/or discriminative comments will not be tolerated; they will be removed and reported.
I apologise for starting this article in such a serious and perhaps negative way, but it seems to be the way that homosexuality within football is treated today. It is certainly a taboo area with most people avoiding the subject, and anyone willing to be brave enough to talk about it needs to tread incredibly carefully else they be subjected to an attack. It is absolutely ridiculous that in 2012 sexual orientation is still considered a concern not just within football, but within sport as a whole. So why is it such a precarious subject?
They have been many rumours of there being many gay professional footballers, with the PFA having reportedly offered advice to eight players. But for some reason, players are thus far refusing to come out publicly. What is perhaps most bemusing about this is that sport appears to be the only ‘entertainment’ in which people are yet to come out happily and successfully.
For example, Freddy Mercury was acknowledged as bi-sexual, yet his behaviour and his partner publicly expressed his ‘gayness’; but fans continued to buy records which has seen him go down as perhaps the greatest rock musician of all time. Likewise, Boy George, Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Elton John, Neil Patrick Harris, Matt Lucas… The list goes on, and they are all comfortable in their lives at the top of their professions. Yet football has never been able to make that breakthrough. So what are the reasons that have prevented homosexual footballers coming out thus far? There are a variety of reasons that have been mentioned which all may contribute towards justifiably hiding their secret.
A major worry for a player coming out is that they may be ridiculed by homophobic abuse from the fans. There are lots of chants by fans at matches which are clearly offensive; ‘Paul Ince is a judas c*nt’ is a regular on the terraces at West Ham following that Manchester United picture (still being sung 23 years later), while ‘don’t leave your wife with John Terry’ is sung by many opposition fans across the country regarding his Wayne Bridge/Vanessa Perroncel ‘situation’. Exactly where this crosses the line from banter to abuse is unclear, but however they may deny and ignore it, it must surely affect them in some way. Yet this ‘banter’ will only be handed out after something ‘bad’ is considered to have happened, but you can bet your life there will be some fans hurling homophobic abuse. Therefore, hearing abuse when you haven’t even done anything wrong seems unjustified, so why bother putting up with it?
Yet it wouldn’t be as simple as dealing with the fans, as coming out could in fact have a direct effect on your career. Footballers today have an increasing commercial value, and clubs associated with big stars in turn become bigger; which can cause higher investments and revenue and more money for the club. If fans and companies become reluctant to associate themselves with a gay star, believing they will lose commercial interest and value, clubs themselves may become unwilling to keep gay players.
Furthermore, coming out may cause difficulties with teammates; players in the locker room and showering together may feel uncomfortable. I’m not saying that a gay player in the locker room would begin sexually assaulting, or simply ‘fancy’ all of their colleagues, but when do you ever see men allowed in a women’s changing room, or vice versa? This could cause tensions between the other players which could in turn force the gay player out as a negative influence at the club. You may believe that this is just speculation and this wouldn’t actually happen, but then why are clubs and players so reluctant to discuss the subject at all, when other serious subjects are regularly discussed? Serious subjects such as racism and respecting the referee have been at the forefront of football for many years now, and campaigns such as ‘Kick It Out’ and ‘Respect’ have been pushed. So why aren’t clubs ready to truly help campaign for aiding homosexual players?
I realise that so far, I probably haven’t made a very strong case for encouraging gay players to come out, but we cannot simply claim that it will all be fine to do it. The first player to come out will probably face these problems, but it will become easier as more players follow their lead. Look at how racism has improved over the years, and you can see that sexual orientation could indeed follow the same pattern.
Yet it isn’t simply a case of convincing teammates and clubs that gay players should be accepted within the game; it in fact stretches even further. Other countries can have vastly different views regarding certain issues, and can be less accepting of such ideas. Racism, despite its improvements, is still prominent in the game. Even if we move away from recent Premier League cases involving Anton Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, other countries have been accused of racist acts (for example, Russia were fined for their fans’ racist chants during Euro 2012). And this abuse will be parallel, if not worse, than any racism currently shown. Even the UN removed ‘sexual orientation’ from an anti execution list in 2010 after 79 – yes 79! – countries voted to expel it. In a nutshell, this suggests that countries should be allowed to execute homosexual people upon that reason. So how on earth could a player ever play abroad, or alongside foreign teammates, where beliefs are so powerfully against gays?