AT least seven professional footballers – two Premier League stars among them – are trapped in the metaphorical closet because they are too terrified to come out as gay.
It’s a shameful reality that a lack of crowds at games because of the coronavirus crisis, possibly for many months to come, might provide these players a safer window of opportunity to reveal their sexuality.
How is it even possible that football grounds in 2020 remain so toxic that not one playing pro has said they are gay since the late great Justin Fashanu in 1990?[/caption]
But how is it even possible that football grounds in 2020 remain so toxic that not one playing pro has said they are gay since the late great Justin Fashanu, pictured, in 1990.
Thirty years! In that time a gay man has become the Prime Minister of socially conservative Ireland, for God’s sake.
While some footballers are prepared to be honest about who they are with close friends and even team-mates, none of them want to face the wrath of being “number one”.
Becoming the first openly gay footballer of the modern era in Britain is a burden they simply cannot bear.
Thirty years since the last top football player came out – a time in which a gay man has become the Prime Minister of socially conservative Ireland, for God’s sake[/caption]
The moment must come soon though and that’s why I am heartened that Justin’s campaigning niece Amal has been invited to work with the Professional Football Association on the issue that has for too long been swept under the carpet.
However, I also understand why it’s unconscionable for any young man to put themselves through such scrutiny and homophobic abuse out of choice.
I know how damaging such an environment can be. Every day I walked down the corridor of my high school in New Zealand to that sort of abuse. “F***ing faggot.” “You poofter.” “Bum boy.” You can imagine.
I became prepared for it and engineered a steely exterior. But each incident made it harder for me to be the person I knew I wanted to be and even more aware I was an outsider in a world where straight men dominate.
Luke Tuffs, who came out as a teenage player at Camberley Town in Surrey, provides reason for hope[/caption]
While attitudes are thankfully changing, they still extend across many industries.
One of my early bosses in newspapers told me recently that an editor had resisted hiring “the poof” (he meant me).
Luckily, that boss — a mentor during my career who happens to be straight — held firm and didn’t accept such blatant homophobia.
ALL MINORITIES HAVE A FIGHT TO OVERCOME
I’m never one to moan about a lack of diversity or embrace identity politics — all minorities have to fight to overcome stereotypes. Taking on a victim mentality doesn’t help, which is why I never have.
But it’s far too simplistic to look at Queer Eye, Graham Norton and Tom Daley then declare homophobia doesn’t strangle careers even now.
That said, Adrian Chiles’ illuminating interview in The Sun this week with Luke Tuffs, who came out as a teenage player at Camberley Town in Surrey, provides reason for hope.
Being openly gay has not strangled Graham Norton’s career[/caption]
Now manager of Ashford Town, he revealed that when he first told his team-mates in a drunken moment of madness they were “absolutely cool” about his sexuality. Of course, there’s “savage” banter in the “un-PC” dressing rooms but he explained: “I don’t think it comes from malice — it comes from love.”
In fact, I’d hazard a guess the banter would be just as brutal if a player had ginger hair, an overweight girlfriend or a small willy. Banter is a prized part of British life and must not be wiped out by the snowflake brigade. It’s very different to abuse.
The closeted players should also look to Phillip Schofield’s coming out announcement. What the This Morning host probably believed was going to be a life-changing event, dominating his every waking moment, has now been largely shrugged off. It was a damp squib in the best possible way.
Closeted players should look to Phillip Schofield’s coming out announcement – what he probably believed was going to be a life-changing event has been largely shrugged off[/caption]
Sure, Phillip is gay. But he’s still hosting This Morning with Holly and that’s what people talk about. We don’t care who he is sleeping with.
It is, of course, a deeply personal choice, but I would encourage footballers living miserably in the closet to try to change the way they think about coming out. Being the first will give them an opportunity no one else will ever have.
While some archaic football fans may not be ready for it, I genuinely believe the vast majority of the country and our culture truly is.
The opportunities will be limitless. The love will be overwhelming.
Thirty years of fear will be turned on its head. We just need one brave announcement.
THERE'S TROUBLE IN STORE
THERE’S a marked difference between paranoia and reasonable precaution.
But I fear that line is being well and truly blurred in our post-lockdown plans.
And if we’re not careful the red tape and draconian restrictions will kill off an already struggling high street.
Take shoe shops, where staff will have to quarantine any footwear tried on for 24 hours.
If you’ve worked in retail you’ll know how damn impractical that is.
And, if we’re being guided by the science, who the heck has ever contracted coronavirus via their toes while wearing socks?
Clothes shoppers will not be able to try on items in a changing room. Why not just order on Amazon then?
Estimates suggest these corona-ready measures will also cost companies. A lot. To the tune of £75,000 a store, according to one estimate.
Making the shopping experience miserable for retailers and customers won’t help save our economy, given recovery requires people wanting to go out and spend.
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