Footballers coming out to play

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Justin Fashanu

I was reading a really interesting piece on the Guardian website about gay footballers (see it here http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/05/gay-footballers-fear-reaction-of-fans) which said that Clarke Carlisle had been approached by eight professional players who had come out to their team mates and club but were afraid of the reaction of the crowds to make it public. The last player to be openly gay was Justin Fashanu [pictured above] who was hounded by fans after his ‘coming out’ – so should sports people, especially footballers, fear the public reaction or do as Jason Collins the basketball player did in the US this week and come out?

Robbie Rogers left Leeds United earlier this year after coming out because he felt it was “impossible” to be an openly gay player in the UK. Across sport people are slowly being honest with the fans and themselves and just getting on with their job as they should because it doesn’t make any difference to their sporting ability – in fact research suggests that bottling it up and not “coming out” is stopping them from reaching their full potential. Fashanu is not a great example because his sexuality became a stick with which he beaten because of other failings. As the first Black UK million pound player in football he never lived up to the hype and fans turned on him and used a perceived weakness in him to lash out at him. Unfortunately he took his own life after an issue in the US with allegations of sexual assault.

I think we’d see a different reaction if one of our English Premiership players admitted he was gay today. Look at the reaction to Jason Collins in the US, publicly praised by hundreds of people both in and out of sport for standing up and being counted. Yes there would be issues initially with the usual Neanderthals in the crowd, but they shout abuse anyway homophobic, religious and sexual at players so those idiots will never learn. I think tough if a star player was openly gay then fans would police their own more carefully as they often do with racist taunts and deal with it themselves.

In 1990 Fashanu was coming out to a public that was still dealing with old fashioned ideas and images of homosexuality. Today most of the people in the crowd at a football match will know someone that’s gay, if they aren’t gay themselves so I don’t see a pack mentality that happened 23 years ago. When big names like rugby player Gareth Roberts, boxers Nicola Adams and Orlando Cruz, and players in sports like body building, horse racing, American Football and ice hockey are all openly gay is it more the perception of the football crowd as old fashioned homophobic than the reality that stops them?

I strongly believe there would be a huge wave of warmth towards any player who did come out – but at the same time it must not be something that is forced upon them, it should be their decision and not that of a tabloid newspaper or Twitter to make that decision for them. I hope we see someone standing up with their team mates around them and finding the courage to declare who they are publicly. And I think it will happen soon.

JD

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