Playing the FieldPosted: December 14, 2012
‘Don’t drop your soap in the shower’ was what my Geography teacher once said when we asked him about homosexuality.
He was a kind-hearted man in nature, however a self-confessed homophobe and also the head coach of the rugby team, an unfortunate if coincidental combination. Though I respected him for being up-front about it, can you imagine someone who was openly racist in such a position? You see, after the world gives itself a collective pat on the back for giving so much support to the Paralympics, soccer continues to ostracise those who are different in another way. Having battled with racism (a problem that’s been rearing its ugly head once more recently), sexism and politics; again football finds itself at the centre of a cultural problem that refuses to go away. Homophobia.
It is said that one in every ten people are homosexual. There are 92 league clubs in England, each with an average squad size of 25. That’s 2,300 players, so going by those figures there could well be 230 gay players in the top four divisions in England, right? Now that indeed may well be the case, but the current number of openly gay players amongst these ranks is a big fat 0. As a matter of fact, not a single British player has come out as being gay since Justin Fashanu in 1990, and when one hears Fashanu’s story you can’t blame them!
Upon his arrival as a teenager, the black British midfielder lit up the scene with sumptuous skill and a wicked shot. With Norwich he scored over 40 times which earned him the ‘honour’ of being the first million pound black player when bought by Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. Things didn’t work out at Forest though, and Clough described a disciplining he gave Fashanu for frequenting ‘poof’s clubs’ (this slur was played down by then-Forest captain John McGovern).
Unfortunately at this point things began to fizzle out for Justin, at which stage he decided to come out. Following the announcement his own brother John refused to show his support, and spoke out in a Sun headline entitled ‘John Fashanu: My Gay Brother is an Outcast’, he was also seen on TV criticizing his brother’s decision. Justin himself suffered the taunts of away supporters because of his own decision and stated that his own teammates used taunt him in a malicious way. Justin moved to America in 1997 where he retired, less than a year later allegations emerged that Fashanu had sexually assaulted a 17-year-old boy in Maryland. A once brilliant midfielder was found hung on May 3rd 1998. All charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.
So after the most difficult decision of his life, Fashanu was outcasted by his family, taunted by supporters and team-mates, and eventually hung himself. It’s no surprise that no footballers have come out since. What hope is there for young gay men who want to make the step up to professional game, or for current professionals who bear the burden everyday of being someone they’re not just to be accepted? ‘Always be yourself’, what a load of tripe!
More-over, there’s hardly a huge queue of straight players standing up for gay rights and paving the way forward. Due to football’s backward mentality, any player who does so runs the risk of being labelled something they’re not by the media, and adding more fuel to the fire for opposing supporters. While the FA has launched a campaign against homophobia in football, it’s not nearly as prevalent as their current priority ‘respect the referee’. Why is this serious problem not a priority? Do the FA just think it will gradually get better over time with absolutely no input whatsoever?
In other sports, athletes have come out and been entirely supported, even in our country, one of the most conservative in the Western World. Donal Óg Cusack’s (one of the most famous hurling players in Ireland) coming out, coming hand in hand with increasing support for LGBT groups around the country, has no doubt proved to be an inspiration for some young people who feel afraid of doing the same, his decision made even more admirable when one considers how unsupportive the GAA have been since. In another mainstream British sport, rugby, Welsh international Gareth Thomas came out in 2007 to the plaudits of fans, fellow players, and an entire nation. In both examples these players have proven to be an exceptional role model for homosexual people of all ages to summon the courage to be who they are; why doesn’t the biggest, best, and most influential sport have the same? Especially when there’s been such good work done on a local level with LGBT clubs competing in leagues all over Ireland, while Limerick has applied for the ‘Gay Games’ in 2018!
While other sports have embraced those with a different orientation as they would any other, football predominantly still stands in the conservative time warp. It alienates, taunts, and outcasts gays who have the courage to stand up for their rights, and straight or gay, that’s despicable.