Whilst news of another public figure openly announcing he’s gay is a stride towards tackling homophobia in football, stigma continues to inject fear into those wanting to ‘come-out’ whilst still playing the game. “We still have a long way to go” Hitzlsperger told BBC Radio 4, “because we fear a reaction and we don’t know what will happen”.
Attitudes must change
I find it remarkable that in this day and age, this remains topical news. We’ve come a long way since 1990, when the first British footballer, Justin Fashanu, faced abuse for his sexuality, but it would be ridiculous to claim the issue is cured. Only yesterday PSG’s Alex, narrow-mindedly commented on homosexuality, saying ‘God would’ve created not Adam and Eve but Adam and Yves’. Alex has the power and presence to impact and improve the publics’ opinion, but instead he’s adding fuel to the fire for those individuals that Hitzlsperger was afraid of throughout his own career. No wonder the likes of Hitzlsperger and Robbie Rogers came out after retiring for fear of a backlash during their career.
I’d like to think Alex’s comments were isolated to himself, but based on my experiences, do I think there’d be an issue in the changing room if a player came out? I’d like to think not. I get that’s not an objective answer, it’s only from my experience. But I’m confident that my teammates would judge a player purely on his field ability, his skill and his character. A player’s sexuality doesn’t affect the way we work as a team, so it shouldn’t and needn’t come into question.
How would fans react?
I am however, sure that a club would reconsider signing a player on learning his sexuality. I say this because of the potential discrimination that player may face. Of course there’s no certainty a player would experience homophobia, purely, as Hitzlsperger pointed out, “we haven’t seen a gay footballer in the Premier League or the Bundesliga…we would have to wait and see”. The sad truth is, until a current player comes out, we can’t comprehend the size of the issue. In the UK, I’d perhaps envisage some aggressive fans on occasion, but more likely would be the method of Twitter abuse. Cowards tend to hide behind their phones and laptops, believe me, I’ve been on the receiving end enough!
We need to join forces
I remain optimistic, and don’t think we’re a million miles from creating a positive football culture, accepting of all diversity. The stigma attached to the game is present, but not unstoppable. Individuals like Hitzlsperger, Rogers and Tom Daley have faced the issue head on and provide light for those having to live in fear, which in today’s society is f*cked up.
It’s all well and good speaking about an idyllic culture, but how can we get it? The way I see it is simple; you’re not only responsible for what you say but what you don’t say. People with social impact need to speak up. I felt encouraged as I saw awareness raised during the Rainbow Laces campaign , but that was just one event. What we need is to make that awareness grow until homosexuality is accepted, by football and each person involved in it.
This subject will always remain a huge talking point, so let’s hear your thoughts.