By Shaun Dicks
A common traumatic experience for queer people is Secondary School. This time for LGBTQIA+ people is typically a time of repression and stunted development, leading to a ‘queer puberty’ in their early 20’s.
The most traumatic experience for me at school was PE (Physical Education). From worrying that I was wearing too tight a pair of pants (anything tighter than boxer shorts was considered ‘gay underwear’), getting changed with peers with similar physical anatomy, to being an effeminate six foot five male presenting person who was expected to excel in sports because of their size.
Through those adolescent years, I grew up in the middle of nowhere, where hobbies involved getting drunk on a bench and shagging behind a tree. I chose to be a sports fan, it was my entire life growing up. My main sport was football, which fitted like a glove, because it’s the working class sport of England and the nation’s biggest sport. But shy, baby queer me realised something very quickly, there is no one like me in the stands or on the pitch.
There has only been one football player in the top four English Football Leagues who has been brave enough while still actively playing to come out as gay. Justin Fashanu came out in 1990, after building a legendary career. Thirty years later, he is the only active male football player to come out in the top four English Football Leagues. More male football players have come out, but typically after they retire from the game.
However, in a stark contrast, Women’s football has multiple players who are out and proud and are top stars in the sport like Lily Parr and Hope Powell. In other sports, like Rugby and Athletics, there is a slew of out sportsmen. Like Keegan Hurst, Sam Stanley, Gus Kenworthy, Tom Daley, Johnny Weir, Adam Rippon and many more who were still active in their respective sports when they came out.
Adam Rippon, American Figure Skater
What I want to know is, why is this the case? Is Football that rooted in toxic masculinity that no footballer can safely come out? Or is it the rampant and blatant prejudice against queer people in the UK?
I personally think that like everything in life, it all comes down to fear. I think that gay and bi male football players are scared to come out. This is for a few of reasons, but the two main ones are: Firstly, Fashanu did come out but upon him coming out, the backlash toward him was vicious. The toxicity of the British media came out swinging and they publicly lynched Fashanu at every chance they got. Secondly, because of that deeply disturbing backlash towards Fashanu, gay players in the modern era don’t want to be the first to put their sexuality into the public forum since then, as it is an unknown entity.
A very public example of this fear was the secret gay footballer who popped up on Twitter not so long ago. They set up an account, that quickly gained public attention and had tens of thousands of followers. This footballer, we knew was in their early twenties and was in the second division of English football. When they were about to announce their identity, the account was deleted. Either the player got scared or it was a hoax. I sincerely hope that it was the former.
It is common knowledge that there are gay men in football who are out to their teammates but are too scared to come out publicly. If by some miracle one of them is reading this, I’d love to talk to them, in the hope that I could help them in some small way, make them feel less alone.
No queer person should have to hide who they are, they should be allowed to freely express who they are and follow their passions and dreams without fear.
Unfortunately, I don’t think there will be an open gay male footballer in the top four tiers of English football in this generation or the next. The governing bodies of football in the UK are not doing enough to truly fight discrimination and hate speech in football, all they seem to do is pay lip service to the affected groups to placate them.
This is not good enough. It won’t be good enough until an openly gay male football player can take his place on the pitch and not have homophobic abuse hurled at them from every direction. The FA needs to be better and do right by the players. Players should be judged by ability on the pitch, not what they do off the pitch.