THE gay footballer… at first I thought it was a hoax.
I mean how sad and ridiculous that I thought it might be a prank or publicity stunt.
The simple act of telling people one’s sexuality really shouldn’t be a big deal, and yet here we are in 2019 without a single openly gay footballer in the Football League.
No wonder it seemed like a big deal that an unverified Twitter account (@FootballerGay) said he was currently playing in the Championship and was about to come out in the next few days.
I took the opportunity to lend my support and whether he is real or not, my feelings and my message remains the same, this is something I will support.
Coming out is something I encourage.
I’m so lucky I’ve not had to deal with any prejudices growing up, but we all know people who have.
It felt like a good time for an announcement like this, following Pride weekend, where more than a million people took to the streets of London to celebrate 50 years since the Stonewall uprising in New York.
WOMEN’S FOOTBALLERS LEADING THE WAY
Perhaps he was inspired by the Women’s World Cup after watching many of the girls hugging and kissing their loved ones, many of them the same sex.
No one batted an eye-lid and figures said there were 41 openly gay or bisexual playing in the women’s World Cup versus zero at the men’s world Cup.
Of course it doesn’t help that the last men’s World Cup was held in Russia where homosexuality is not welcome and the next in Qatar, where it is illegal and carries a punishment of up to seven years in prison.
I was shocked to read that homosexuality was only recently removed from a list of mental illnesses in Russia in 1999 and that nine countries still threaten the death penalty for it. How sad and scary to travel as a gay person.
I also wonder that if enough world-class players came out, could there be good reason not to play the next World Cup in Qatar?
FOOTBALL IS FOR EVERYONE
Perhaps it’s a little too late for that one but it would have been a good message – football is supposed to be the game for all.
I received a reply from the anonymous footballer thanking me for my support and explaining to me he’d be happy to do an interview with me when the time is right. His football club would schedule a press conference and then interviews would be arranged.
Although it seems sad that a club needs to go to so much trouble over a piece of personal information, I can understand why they have decided to do it this way.
It gives the club an opportunity to speak about zero tolerance, to offer support and give him the right environment in which to come out.
Unfortunately the English leagues seem to be a tough environment.
Football is one of those sports dominated by fans who are less considerate of differences, it has deep-rooted problems of sexism, racism, homophobia, and even the ‘banter’ goes too far.
My name ‘Bender’ of course is a derogatory term for ‘homosexual’ so me liking his tweet brought the banter brigade to the fore.
If I were a footballer thinking about coming out, I have to admit I’d think twice, which saddens me.
I can imagine many footballers would think it just doesn’t seem worth the hassle.
I’d think: “It’s no one’s business but my own.”
I hear the chants; I see the discrimination, why give them a stick to beat me with? Even being a woman in football is tiresome and distracting at times, sometimes you wish you can just get on with it without all the other distractions.
To be the first since Justin Fashanu, who tragically took his life shortly after coming out in 1990, will feel like a monumental moment, to be the first will take great courage.
Perhaps the way it has been planned like this will encourage others to come out in solidarity.
It has already been a topic in the public arena after a recent issue in rugby when Israel Folau posted a homophobic social media post.
Thankfully it was taken seriously and Rugby Australia terminated his contract, but he is now claiming he is being discriminated against because of his religion.
Although I am curious who the player is, I am worried that a Championship player under the age of 23 won’t be a name big enough to make the right impact.
That said it can only be a good thing to have someone brave enough to announce it while still young with a (hopefully) long career ahead of him.
We need role models for gay football fans growing up, we need to show people it’s not something to be ashamed of, and that’s why it needs to be done properly, with full support.
ROGERS AND HITZLSPERGER
We’ve already had examples of players who have come out post retirement, like Thomas Hitzlsperger; and Robbie Rogers who came out after leaving Leeds and then playing for LA Galaxy, but perhaps the USA is a safer environment to be openly gay than the English leagues.
As a mum of two young children, I’d love them to grow up in an environment where they can be themselves, even if they are what many perceive to be ‘different’ because of their sexual preferences.
As we walked through the streets of London on Saturday and they started asking questions about the “rainbows everywhere” I started to explain it was all about being comfortable in yourself and liking whoever you wanted to like.
They looked confused as if this is the most utterly obvious thing.
I wish we could all think the way young children think, with no judgement.
Of course there are gay men in every football club, players within the club often know some of their team-mates are gay and it’s (generally) not a problem, but when it comes to fans it’s a different case.
We know about tribalism, using differences to create rivalry, so we know this knowledge will be ammunition for some.
I just hope they will be the ones to feel like outsiders.
It seems ground-breaking right now, and of course it would be without a single player in our leagues openly gay.
I long for a time when it’s not even a talking point.
I believe that day will come, but I do think sadly we are a long way off.
Please let ‘@FootballerGay’ be real and the first of very many.