It came as something of a shock when FA chairman Greg Clarke said that footballers would still suffer “significant abuse” if they decided to come out.
It came as even more of a shock when BBC Radio Five Live conducted a survey into the matter, and found that 8% of people would STOP watching their team if they signed a gay player.
To date, there has only been one player to come out as gay while still playing in the English top flight – Justin Fashanu back in 1990. Eight years later, the former Norwich City striker committed suicide.
Clarke’s comments suggest that football in 2016 is still struggling with the same problems that it did in the early 1990’s, and if you look at the crowd trouble that marred West Ham United’s win over Chelsea in the EFL Cup this week, he may have a point.
The 1990’s was a long time ago though. Social attitudes have changed dramatically, especially towards homophobia, and we now live in a world that is as diverse as its ever been.
Granted, in some circles homophobia isn’t as accepted as it should be, but there has been progress to the point where if a player did decide to come out, they wouldn’t be vilified for doing so.
Yes, there’d be trolls on social media, as there is whenever the keyboard warriors decide they’re going to have a pop at something for the sake of it, but football is at a point when it is ready to accept people for doing something others have long been scared to, and it can only be for the good of the game if it happens.
If you are one of the 8% who claimed they’d stop watching their team if they signed a gay player, please get with the times. Please grow up. Please realise that your archaic views are nothing but disgusting and make no sense.
Does it matter if a player is gay or not? Does it make him unable to lash a volley into the top corner from 30 yards? No, so why the big deal if a player comes out?
By voicing his thoughts on the issue, Clarke has just delayed what was coming. The Mirror claimed last year that two current Premier League players were planning on coming out together, to avoid being branded as the first one to take the risk.
For one reason or another, that hasn’t happened as yet, but it’s not far off, so it made no sense for the chairman of the FA to say that the country isn’t ready for an openly gay footballer.
Don’t get me wrong, Clarke meant well. He went on to say that he was “personally ashamed” that people don’t feel safe to come out and that he’d work to make it right.
However, how are you meant to tackle a problem by avoiding it? It’s impossible.
To me, Clarke sounded like a man who was scared to lead the campaign for gay footballers to come out, something a leader of an organisation as big as the FA shouldn’t be afraid to do.
Thomas Hitzlsperger is perhaps the most high profile player to come out in recent years, after he used German newspaper Die Zeit to reveal his homosexuality. At the time, he said:
I’m coming out about my homosexuality because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards.
The former West Ham United midfielder had the right attitude – take the plunge and lead the way. The chairman of the FA could learn a thing or two from his German counterpart.
The first person to come out while still playing in the top flight – an England international, if the newspaper reports are true – should be hailed as a hero, a pioneer in a similar mould to Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who wasn’t afraid to do something that should have been done long before.
It’s time to get rid of a problem that should have never existed in the first place.