Why are footballers too frightened to come out?
In a world where more and more people, in all walks of life, are feeling that they can come out publicly, football still remains way behind with only a couple of out players.
There are many theories as to why this is. Certainly it’s true that it takes a lot of courage for a person to come out when their job is walking out onto a pitch in front of tens of thousands of people, many of whom support the opposing team and are looking for any reason to sing songs disparaging your team.
Yet other similar sports around the world have started to gain ground whilst soccer seems to stand still, especially when it comes to the the men’s game.
In an interview with the Gay Footballer Supporters’ Network, Clarke Carlisle (above), a player with York City, gives some insight from a player’s point of view.
Carlisle works for the Kick It Out scheme, as well as being chair of the Management Committee of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), so he’s a guy who knows what is going on in the minds of the sports professionals.
In the interview, Carlisle talks about conversations he has had with 8 gay players. He says:
Seven of the eight said they didn’t want to come out because they were worried about the media. Nothing came of our conversations with these players so I guess we are back to square one.
His frustration seems real, and you have to acknowledge the PFA for at least seeking these conversations with the players at the heart of the issue.
For me, he sums up the problem when he says:
You have to understand that the use of language in football, in the changing rooms, between players and managers and of course on the terraces is at a pretty base level… So any player thinking about [coming out] would need to be very brave.
The game is a microcosm of the culture it takes place in. It’s a catch 22 for many of the players: come out and help society see homophobia for what it is; but because homophobia is so strong, they are afraid to come out.
However, what he says about the media can’t be overlooked. There is an argument that sponsorship deals for out players could be affected – but, to be fair, they could get even better. The issue is how the media deal with it. We can all see the headlines now, and they aren’t pretty. That’s something that has to be dealt with in a major way.
The media seem unable to marry their concept of what it is to be a sportsman and that of what it is to be gay – and that is infuriating.
Rugby has Gareth Thomas, cycling has Graeme Obree, cricket has Steve Davis, GAA has Donal Og Cusack – and it shouldn’t be forgotten that soccer does have Anton Hysen, David Testo, Lori Lindsey and Megan Rapinoe.
But for such a massive sport there is still no high profile male out player and that has to be addressed. When you look at hugely popular sports teams in the states making videos for the “It Gets Better” campaign, you can see that the gap is widening.
Some punishment has been doled out to players who have shown themselves to be homophobic, for example through Twitter, but more has to be done to break down that wall and separate the sport from this idiotic notion of “men being men”.
I applaud Clarke Carlisle for his words. Let’s hope he can influence those at the top of the game to take action. After all, the World Cup in 2022 is to be held in Qatar, not exactly the most hospitable place in the world for gay fans and players. Even the head of the sport’s international governing body has said that gay fans going there should “refrain from sexual activity”. Good lord, this is what we are up against!
The FA’s anti-homophobia initiative needs to be the first step, not the beginning and the end of a move towards inclusiveness. I hope to be cheering on an out gay player sooner rather than later.