As the dust settled on the Saturday fixtures, we saw a few things we already suspected confirmed.
For as good as Liverpool can be, they can also be God awful. Arsenal will never change with Arsene Wenger at the helm, and Manchester City look like one of only two teams capable of winning the league.
Not exactly breaking news. However, a much more alarming truth was once again thrust into the limelight, after tweets from Andre Gray – Burnley’s second goalscorer of the day – emerged.
Said tweets were from way back in 2012, and painted the footballer in a horrific light, with racism, sexism and homophobia being displayed, and it is the latter of the three that seemed to make the most headlines.
Why? Well for some time now, more and more attention has been focused on the fact that not only is homophobia in football a huge issue, but that despite attempts to raise awareness and combat the issue, nowhere near enough is actually being done.
Ask yourself this – how many gay footballers are there in the Premier League?
The answer is short, but it certainly isn’t sweet.
This is despite there being 22 first team players in a squad, if not more – and 20 teams in the top flight. That’s not even taking into account the lower leagues or other top leagues such as La Liga or Serie A.
It’s clearly not the case, with players fearful of coming out because of their reputations, abuse from fans, exclusion by teammates, and the stigma they feel they would attract.
For as many times as an organisation like Kick It Out manage to make a positive step in the fight against homophobia (and the same of course goes for racism and sexism), someone like Gray airs downright homophobic views, and the progress made takes ten steps back.
It’s something that an upcoming Rhys Champman film, WONDERKID, which tackles the issue of homophobia in football, focuses on.
The film makes the point that despite there being 5,000 professional footballers in the UK, not one is openly gay – and it’s 2016.
It should not be an issue, but sadly it seems to be.
During a radio interview with the BBC, Amal Fashanu claimed that she knows of seven gay footballers in the Premier League, yet they’re too scared to come out due to the level of homophobia still in football.
Cast your mind back to the start of last season.
National tabloids ran stories claiming two footballers were preparing to come out – yet this has not happened – and you have to wonder if the huge media attention and the subsequent unsavoury bookies’ odds (which let you bet on a host of players you thought might be gay) had a lot to do with it.
If nothing else, it proved that very little has actually changed, and while people like Gray issue hastily written apologies after their ‘former’ views are aired, and claim to be reformed characters, even if this is the case, the damage is already done.
Tweets like this are not helpful in the slightest, and especially from Joey Barton, given he has actually done a fair amount to help the fight against homophobia in football, offering his views in documentaries when few others would.
Simply forgetting about it, accepting that someone is allowed to say that and then apologise is a foolish approach, and one that will see the same issues arise again and again.
Focusing on why people say things like this, and addressing their ignorance and helping to educate them, is essential.
More than anything else, there is a lack of education at times in sport – football in particular – and condemning someone like Gray for their tweets is one thing, but steps need to be taken to ensure things like this do not happen again.
Football v Homophobia and Stonewall have tried to do this – back in 2010 an anti-homophobia video was scheduled to be screened, yet pulled at the eleventh hour, after claims it was ‘too hard hitting’.
Quite what that means, you can only wonder – is it harder hitting than someone claiming that gay people should ‘burn’ or ‘die’? Doubtful, given those are phrases associated with hate crimes.
Stonewall spoke to the BBC and claimed:
While these tweets are of course historic, unfortunately homophobic attitudes and language continue to be an issue in sport, whether that’s on the pitch, in the terraces or on social media.
It’s extremely important that we work together to kick these attitudes out of sport and create supportive and inclusive environments that enable everyone to feel accepted without exception.
Ironically, it is Gray who may now be afforded the chance to not only atone for his views in private – something he claims has already happened, with the person he was back in 2012 not the person he is now, apparently – but also in public.
He is now a Premier League footballer, with the considerable influence that brings, and simply has to use his social media platform and influence over young fans to show that his tweets were wrong, misplaced and disgraceful.
Apologies are one thing, and he has issued a rather grovelling one – that focuses on how he has been educated and changed as a person – but now Gray needs to help others who hold similarly misplaced views to do the same.