The players’ sexual orientation is thought to be an open, but closely guarded, secret within the game. The players refuse to come out publicly because they fear a backlash from fans and the media, according to the Guardian.
“Gay campaigners told the Observer that Clarke Carlisle, chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, had revealed that eight players had approached him to disclose that they were gay,” the report says. “Seven told him that the reason they would not reveal their sexual orientation publicly was not the reaction from the dressing room or club, but the potential reaction from the media and supporters. Chris Basiurski, chair of the Gay Football Supporters’ Network, said that, although progressive attitudes had begun to infiltrate the dressing room, the fear of how supporters would react remained a problem.
“‘The danger is not so much coming out, but what happens next,’ Basiurski said. ‘One of the problems Justin Fashanu found was that he was the first black millionaire player, and a lot of things were expected of him on the pitch at Nottingham Forest and it didn’t really work out. When that happened, the dressing room and the management used his sexuality as a thing to bash him with.’
“Basiurski said the organisation had heard reports of professional players whose sexuality was a secret guarded inside the game: ‘We have anecdotal evidence that players are out within their clubs and don’t have a problem. But we are trying to create an atmosphere for people to come out safely, but at the moment there is a big barrier. The fact is, we have never really tested the fans, both home or away, on this.’
“‘The danger is what happens when a player comes out and gets loads of support and attention, but then start playing badly. The worry is that fans will start getting on their backs and they may lose the confidence of their manager and it could be connected to their sexuality.'”
In February former Leeds United winger Robbie Rogers revealed that he was gay before announcing his immediate retirement from the game. He became the first British-based soccer player to reveal his homosexuality since Fashanu in 1990. Rogers received an outpouring of support, and is thought to be considering resuming his career in Major League Soccer. Last week, NBA veteran Jason Colllins became the first active male North American professional athlete in a team sport to publicly reveal he is gay. The public’s reaction was largely positive as well.
Some segments of the British soccer community are keen to eliminate homophobia from the field and the stands. Arsenal has embraced the “Gay Gooners” — a LGBT supporters group — as it seeks to change attitudes toward homosexuality in British soccer and sports.
It’s feasible that, with enough support, the eight players will come out publicly and continue to pursue their careers to the best of their abilities. If and when that happens, others will be sure to follow in their footsteps and that change will reverberate in other parts of the world.
Photo via Twitter/@OriginalWinger