The idea of a footballer being gay usually invokes the usual thoughts or responses: “Don’t be so daft”, “That’s just not right, it would give me the creeps.”
It’s a bleak outlook but in all seriousness, it really is the way most people respond to any discussion on the topic. I know I have. I’m not proud of it, I’m just honest.
YFRadio Interview with Stonewall Scotland Director, Colin Macfarlane:
But that needs to change – and it is. A fourth response is becoming much more prevalent: “Who cares?”
If you think that may seem flippant, it very much isn’t. It’s my choice of response now too, and here’s why on a footballing (or sporting) level: sexuality has nothing to do with the talent of a footballer. The over-riding reason though? It really does not matter to me whether someone is homosexual are not, and the public perception of gay people needs to come around to this way of thinking. We are all the same, no matter how different our choices are.
And Stonewall is doing their best to help promote these visions. And this weekend, they are targeting the world of football with a Rainbow-laces campaign for footballers to wear on their boots. The laces have been distributed to every male footballer across all 134 teams in the UK. Each player is asked to wear the special laces in their club fixtures on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd September. The campaign has a simple message: ‘Right Behind Gay Footballers’ – and it is designed to kick start a change in attitudes and make the country’s most popular sport more gay-friendly.
Stonewall Scotland has five priorities for 2013/14: Hate crime, Equal marriage, Education, Workplace and Public Services. They will challenge these priorities through policy development, cultural and attitudinal change, lobbying for legal change, providing information and good practice design and advice.
The organisation has teamed up with Paddy Power bookmakers and Stonewall Deputy Chief Executive Laura Doughty had this to say on their website: “It’s time for football clubs and players to step up and make a visible stand against homophobia in our national game. That’s why we’re working with Paddy Power on this fun and simple campaign. By wearing rainbow laces players will send a message of support to gay players and can begin to drag football in to the 21st century.”
The Stonewall & Paddy Power team does have a very tough foe, however.
Homosexuality in football – particularly in Britain – has lived a checkered and dark past. There has only ever been one active British professional footballer to come out as gay, Justin Fashanu. He made the headlines early in his career for being the first £1 million black player in Britain but those headlines were all but forgotten when Fashanu announced he was gay in 1990 after a stop-start career (perhaps due, in part, to his struggles off the field with shielding his sexuality).
John Fashanu – The first £1 million black footballer and only ever active British gay professional footballer
Fashanu was disowned by his brother and went on to receive inevitable grief from the stands. Allegedly Brian Clough had chastised Fashanu previously while both were at Nottingham Forest after he heard rumours about the player’s visits to gay bars. That old-fashioned style of management was mirrored by fans and no doubt players too, even if the latter was only in their minds. As most know, Justin Fashanu took his own life a few years later.
Until February this year, Fashanu was our only memory of gay footballers. Then, a little American winger called Robbie Rogers left Leeds United in January and retired from the game soon after. Weeks later he stated it was because he was gay and that he felt you just “impossible” to be gay and a football player at the same time.
Robbie Rogers – back with LA Galaxy
Now though? Rogers is back playing football – for none other than LA Galaxy in the MLS – and he’s been credited with “blazing a trail” by NBA basketball player, Jason Collins who became the first active male athlete in a major American professional team sport to do so.
So there is hope. Rogers claims that it’s fans’ attitudes that stop gay players from coming out. “I’m sure there are a lot of players over the years who have played in England, or wherever, and are too frightened to come out”, he said in an interview with the BBC.
He probably is right, though he does state that it’s not always due to homophobia that fans treat players this way. “For whatever reason, I don’t think fans in England or fans in the UK are homophobic at all. They are just so passionate they will do anything to help their team get a little bit of an edge.
“The things they will say in a stadium do not reflect their character”.
He also has no grudges to his Leeds United fans and colleagues, saying “Leeds fans are crazy, passionate people but I think they would have supported me.
“They would have seen what I went through, and the struggles, and taken me under their wing.
“In the changing room, maybe it would have been awkward in the first few days with guys not knowing what to say. But I think they would have been supportive and loving”.
So if Rogers can do it and arguably then make a step up in his career upon return (watch his reception to taking the field for his LA Galaxy debut – wow), why can’t other gay players?
It’s not because there aren’t any. Stonewall believes that, across the clubs playing in England, Scotland, and Wales in the Premier League, Championship, Football League 1, Football League 2, Scottish Premier League, Scottish Championship, Scottish League 1, and Scottish League 2 – and the 5,000 players across those leagues – that there is a 22,947,321,563,647,480,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to one chance of there being not one homosexual, assuming a 6% likelihood.
That’s over a quadrillion.
We can only hope that this campaign and the use of #RBGF prompts some of our footballers to come out and accept their sexuality – and in return being accepted by peers, colleagues and fans.
The chances of that happening? Quadrillion to one? No.