According to the front page of the Daily Mirror, two footballers in the Premier League – one of whom is an England international – are ready to announce they are gay.
Now look away from the fact that firstly, it should not have taken this long. Secondly, it has been shamefully sensationalised by a tabloid newspaper looking to sell extra copies. And thirdly and finally that in 2015, no one should have to live in the closet.
The fact of the matter is that they do – wrongly, but it happens.
People hide their sexuality for many reasons, be it their fear of loved ones finding out and their subsequent reaction, their fear for their lives in some countries, or their fear for their jobs and how it would impact them at work, which is the case for many prominent figures.
Should said footballers come out, it would obviously be unprecedented, and a huge step forward in the fight against homophobia in football – a fight that has been overlooked so often in the past.
So much attention and focus has been placed on depression in sport in the last few years after the tragic death of Gary Speed, and also the fight against racism. Both utterly commendable fights and ones that should receive far more support and attention.
One thing that is seldom mentioned however is homophobia in football.
Yes, there are a few players who have been brave enough to speak out and offer support for a teammate should they wish to come out as gay, but the fact remains. There are no openly gay footballers in England. In fact there are only two in world football.
As they say, statistics do not lie.
Consider the fact that one in every ten people are gay. There are 5,000 professional footballers in England, yet how many can you name as being openly gay? A rather disturbing and disappointing zero, so does this mean there are no gay footballers in England?
Of course not. Disgraced former PR guru Max Clifford stated he knows and has advised at least half a dozen Premier League footballers not to ‘come out’ through fear of recrimination and effectively killing their career.
It is at this point most people would think back to the only gay footballer in England to come out, and the subject of a BBC 3 documentary about homophobia in football– Justin Fashanu, who eventually committed suicide after being spurned by even his own family.
Footballers, people often forget, are human just like the rest of society, and have the same worries and concerns about being accepted – both by the general public and by their teammates. Of course this will affect their decision to hide their homosexuality and stop the potential abuse and rejection.
World Cup winning coach Phil Scolari was quoted during the 2002 tournament saying should a player come out as gay to him, he would throw them out of the team.
A disgraceful and not to mention highly discriminatory statement.
One which is highly unacceptable to say the very least, but one that goes a long way when explaining the concerns and hesitation of gay footballers when deciding to effectively live a lie.
Former Chelsea forward Mateja Kezman aired his views on homosexuality in football – and they were far worse than his strike ratio for the Blues, which is saying something.
He noted after a Gay Pride event in Amsterdam:
I cannot say I’m really surprised because the Dutch people are very liberal.
Still, I think that homosexuality is an estrangement from God and it leads to spiritual ruin.
In my opinion, homosexuality is a disease and it shouldn’t be promoted at all.
I wouldn’t like if the Football Association of Serbia decided one day support the gay parade in this country.
Where to even begin with those comments?
Clearly it is Kezman himself that has the problem. Homosexuality is not and will never be a disease. Views like that are shamefully outdated and have no place in modern society.
Of course, it is easy to type that, but sadly, in reality, some people do share those views, and you cannot discount the affect they have on players keeping their sexual preference hidden from the public.
Even players who have no issue with gay people have cautioned them from coming out.
Former Germany and Bayern Munich keeper Oliver Kahn said ‘it may sound sad, but I wouldn’t advise him [a gay player] to come out.’
Philipp Lahm echoed this sentiment – citing the player would then be ‘exposed to abusive elements.’
Kahn went on to talk about the impact on the player’s career and also his sponsorship deals, not to mention the response of teammates – something that is cited as being a huge concern for footballers when choosing not to come out.
Yet during the aforementioned BBC 3 programme, both Millwall players and high profile player Joey Barton stated that it would not be a problem.
Yes there would be banter, but there is in every walk of life, and it could well make the player feel more included and accepted by the dressing room, rather than the issue being suspected and skirted around.
Aside from this, the fact remains that the governing bodies are simply not doing enough to show that homosexuality should be accepted as a normality in the game.
The PFA sending out posters and a DVD to all 92 clubs is simply not good enough by any stretch of the imagination. Nor is a half baked campaign to get players to wear rainbow shoelaces.
Head of the Gay Footballers Support Network, Chris Basiurski commented ‘nowhere near enough is being done, and there is little sign governing bodies are willing to change this.’
The German FA have also tried to lend support to gay players – with German Chancellor Angela Merkel noting back in September 2012 they ‘have nothing to fear.’
Again, easy for her to say.
When you add the fact that the German DFB also told players to come out quietly, and at the end of the season, it also makes you wonder how statements like these would ever help the issue.
One step forward, two steps back springs to mind.
One of the only openly gay players in football, Anton Hysen, spoke about coming out and said:
Some people say we don’t need to talk about this but we do because it’s 2013 and there are no openly gay players in the Premier League.
There are gay rugby players, cricketers and basketball stars but football seems to be different. I play down the leagues in Sweden, so my situation is only comparable to a degree, but I barely received any negative reaction when I came out in 2011.
There was the odd comment from a supporter but I paid no attention and fan reaction is what stops most players being open about their sexuality.
They worry the spotlight will be on them, that fans will call them names or even that their place in the team would be under threat. But if you keep scoring goals or making tackles or saves, why would it matter to anyone?
Do your job and no-one will care. I can’t really see how someone would be affected negatively.
When it comes to homophobia in football, to say more action needs to be taken is like saying Messi is quite decent.
In reality, what chance do the PFA have when FIFA have allowed the 2022 World Cup, the biggest footballing event of all, to be held in Qatar, where homosexuality is banned.
Not to mention the fact Sepp Blatter stated that gay people should ‘refrain from sexual activity’ whilst there for the World Cup. It all contributes to making an already incredibly difficult situation much, much harder for a gay player.
Would the England international referred to in the paper then be banned from playing for his country come the 2022 tournament? Would he even want to fly over to such a place? Should he even have to?
By 2022, you would hope that there were at least a handful more players who had come out of the closet – especially if a couple coming out sparks a catalyst like reaction, meaning they too would face an impossible choice come the tournament in Qatar.
It is beyond depressing that in this day and age, it is front page news that footballers are willing to come out of the closet and admit they are gay.
That is undisputable, but if two players are brave enough to come out, the way people react after this will be vital.
Support has to be given from the players, the media and the fans. The players have to be allowed to come out in their own time, and in their own way.
How sad then to see certain parts of the media have already fallen down by sensationalising an issue that should be handled with sensitivity and respect.