It’s 2020 and, in general terms, the world is the most tolerant it’s ever been. Largely people are able to go about their business as they please, apart from the odd idiot making life difficult. Unless, of course, you happen to play in the Premier League. Even in this day and age, nobody in England’s top flight has found the courage to step forward and declare themselves as the competition’s first openly gay footballer..
Not that any such pronouncements are for public consumption per se. However, it would at least kill the narrative that currently surrounds English professional football. The machismo that lives within the dressing room makes it, apparently, not the place in which to be honest about one’s sexuality. It’s farcical that such a stigma surrounds homosexuality in this day and age.
At this point, the only openly gay footballer to emerge from the Premier League was former Aston Villa and West Ham player, Thomas Hitzlsperger. His 2014 pronouncement only arrived, however, after he had retired from the game. A year earlier, former Leeds United player Robbie Rogers had also let it be known he was homosexual. However, in so doing Rogers also decided to walk away from the game.
That was seven years ago and, in that time, nothing has changed. The arrival of the first openly gay footballer seems as far away as ever. It’s a sad indictment on football in general, and Premier League footballers in particular, that players still don’t feel comfortable letting the world know who they really are.
These same holier than thou footballers want us to get behind the ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaigns. However, they seemingly aren’t willing to create an environment where every single one of their team-mates feels confident being themselves.
The dam was almost broken last summer when a household name in the Premier League was supposedly ready to identify as gay. However, reportedly his club stopped him from so doing because they were concerned about their image and the backlash they’d receive from supporters. There’s progress for you.
It does beg the question as to whether there will ever be a good time for the first gay footballer to make himself known. Not to be ‘the first’ or ‘a trailblazer’ either. Just to be like any other person in the workplace.
The reality is that it says much more about the attitudes of those that play the game than those who watch it. When rugby player, Gareth Thomas, let it be known that he was gay, he received nothing but support from his colleagues, opponents and the general public.
Women’s football too has many lesbian players within its ranks, with some, such as Megan Rapinoe, proud to be so. And why not?! It shouldn’t be such a big deal in 2020.
Ryan Atkin, a professional referee working in the UK, is the sport’s first publicly ‘out’ official, and he too has been met with nothing but positivity. He is at least helped by a recent strengthening of commitments by the game’s governing bodies towards LGBT groups.
Graeme Souness, when interviewed on Sky Sports in December, noted that he had changed his mindset about homosexuality in the game after being persuaded to go to Brighton Pride last summer.
He admitted that during his playing days the dressing rooms were incredibly homophobic. However, he added that after being ‘educated’, he now has a totally different opinion.
So what is it about the environment within football clubs – at the present moment – that makes such statements so difficult for its players? Are the majority really that backwards in their thinking that, if an openly gay footballer emerged, they’d all be horrified?
Surely they must recognise that if a colleague is happy in their own skin, they would perform better as a result. In turn that must be of benefit to the team as a whole?
If the breakthrough doesn’t come over the course of the next few months, when LGBT causes are at the forefront of people’s minds and when there’s an awful lot of support for it, then it’s difficult to see when there will ever be an opportunity to get this far along the road again.
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