Why do gay footballers prefer to remain in Narnia?
Some people are so far in the closet they really are in Narnia. That, of course, is their own business, and they have their own reasons for it. However, when you see one particular group of people staying in the closet, it does make you think. Male professional soccer players are one such group. Homophobia in sport is something we talk about a lot here in Gaelick, however, where some sports, like tennis and golf, seem to have out women, there are precious few men who come out while still active in sport, especially, it would seem, on the football pitch.
I always assumed that the driving reason for this was the crowds. I am a massive football fan, but I have to admit that most fans are men and the assumption has always been that men find male homosexuality something they must mock, dare anyone think they are gay. So walking out onto a football pitch, surrounded by up to 80,000 fans, as an out man, can’t seem very inviting for most, and I have always understood that, even if it is a sad reflection on society as a whole.
However, a few players have come out recently, namely Sweden’s Anton Hysen as well as David Testo from North Carolina. Testo, who played in Montreal, was interviewed on Canadian radio and said (in French translation below)
I’m homosexual, I’m gay. I did not choose. It’s just part of who I am. And it has nothing to do with the talent of a soccer player. You can be both an excellent soccer player and being gay
I really regret not having said publicly earlier. I fought with it all my life, my whole career. Living the life of a professional athlete and being gay is incredibly difficult … It saps all your energy to you, in addition to having to perform, having to play
You can’t help but have empathy for his statement, it must be very hard in such a testosterone driven environment.
What I find uplifting is that David was out, not just to his family and friends but also to his team mates. Sadly when he won the award for most valuable player he couldn’t thank his partner, and that is the sting in the tail isn’t it.
However, a new study by Staffordshire University has concluded that the main reason footballers stay so far in the closet whilst playing, is not the pressure from fans and fear of being mocked in such an open and intimidating situation, but rather from pressure they receive from their agents and clubs.
Having carried out a survey of 3,500 fans, the research found that over 90% of them would be happy to see a player come out. The study also shows that 40% of fans believe the reason players don’t come out is pressure from within the sport. The study was published in the Journal of Sport & Social Issues and it’s author Professor Ellis Cashmore has said
Football’s gay players have been reluctant to come out. Their reasons for remaining silent lie inside the football industry rather than in the crowds. Most fans are embarrassed by the popular conception of football as a homophobic environment. It is an impression, they believe, maintained by a code of silence orchestrated and enforced by agents and clubs
So what do the Association of Football Agents think about all this, well, unsurprisingly their chairman has said
It is utter nonsense to suggest that a sports agent would place any pressure on a client confirming or denying or concealing his sexual status… In the 21st century I think that a heterosexual affair would be far more damaging to a player’s image than any acknowledgement of a player’s homosexuality as far as sponsors were concerned
I have to say I think one issue with this study is that they asked fans why they think players don’t come out and it was the fans who said it was the clubs and agents, what do we fans know about it really? You’d have to ask the players, gay and straight, only they could really answer the question. I am still left agreeing with an FA spokesman (wonders will never cease) who thinks
There are many people who are openly gay in the industry. If they don’t wish to broadcast this via the media, that’s understandable
One person who does seem to think the study has some teeth would appear to be Chris Basiurski, chairman of the Gay Football Supporters’ Network. He has stated that his network know of gay players that have been advised not to come out for fear it would hurt them in the transfer market.
The British government have a charter to kick homophobia out of sport and Liverpool are lined up to be the first Premier League club to sign up, several lower division sides already have.
I can’t imagine the media hype if a player came out, so for me, them staying in the closet is sadly understandable. The bottom line is that we still live in a world where a male footballer has reason to fear walking out on to the pitch, especially away from home, if he is out. He also has a right to fear a real impact on his chances of moving up in the game as many clubs might be turned off by the media hype that would follow him. Never mind the impact on his personal life and those he loves, the media circus would be vast.
When retired players come out you feel it’s a shame they couldn’t while playing, but every athlete that comes out chips away at the stereotype and that has to be a good thing. Over 90% of fans being against homophobia, however, is a very welcome and positive statistic. Lets hope the pressure on these young men decreases soon and they can be beacons for all those kids who adore them.