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Leagues: Championship

Great Football Debate: #1 “Have You Heard That Footballer Is Gay?!”

Sorry Jose Aurelio Gay, this one isn't about you

As well as writing about the Championship (which ruined my accumulator at the weekend as I incorrectly predicted four results and got none of them right. Yes I’ve thought about writing up a letter of resignation) I thought I’d write about some of those talking points in football that are often debated, whether it be in the mainstream media, obscure forum chats or just in the pub with your mates. There’s no better place to start than talking about a subject that is starting to become more prominent due to a change in culture – gay footballers and how they would be treated by football fans. Basically, it’s more of a question as to why this is such a taboo subject when it comes to football.

In western culture, homophobic remarks are commonly used with a different meaning to what they entail. You will probably know what I’m talking about, you’ve likely used terms like ‘shut up you fag’ if you are part of the MTV generation onwards (what is the current generation called? In fact I’m pretty sure only the “MTV generation” have their own label). In most cases, people don’t use it to show spite or malice against gay people, it’s as a result of modern media that such terms are used so commonly; if you have ever seen the South Park Episode “The F word”, they cover this subject quite well. It’s a modern day insult that is used by many people. Although despite a more accepting culture in the west of homosexuality, homophobia still exists.

The term homophobia itself is quite confusing though, as it would suggest that these people are scared of gay people. Algiophobia is the fear of pain, achluphobia is a fear of darkness and lutraphobia is a fear of otters. You are not born with phobias, if you ever see in TV shows when a character goes to counsellor they usually ask them to back track as to what could have triggered the fear and what past events have been traumatic that it makes them want to avoid it and panic about it (For another pop culture reference see The Simpsons “Fear Of Flying”, but if you are like me you’ve probably already seen it 100 times). Phobias are a defence mechanism from the brain so you attempt to avoid something that caused so much distress, I have a degree in Psychology and when I was at university one of my lecturers told me a story where he was counselling a woman who had recently been raped and she had a complete panic attack in the middle of a shopping centre which had her screaming. The reason was that she had seen someone wearing a jacket that was similar to the person who had raped her, her brain had picked up on this and this caused stress. The brain stores more information from traumatic events than it usually would, there is a lot of papers that look at a link between stress and memory which is quite a broad and interesting subject.

Now you average person who would be described as “homophobic” will generally have not had an experience which would lead them to completely panic when they see a gay person. In fact many of the people who go on about how wrong it is to be gay or make fun of celebrities that are gay will be so two faced that when they meet a person who is a homosexual, they’ll act nicer than they would to their mates! Homophobia in western culture is not as much a fear of gay people, but the hate of them or a general disagreement with their lifestyle. I’ve never understood though why this exists, do these people think that every gay person will thrust their lower region in their face the minute they meet them? And people also claim they hate how camp they are, but in truth the majority of gay people are camp, but in pop culture when a writer wants to portray a gay person they’ll often make them so camp it truly is fiction.

But generally the people you will find that use such language and use gay culture as an insult are the lads – the boys – drinking buddies that you will sit in the pub (or bar in America I suppose) with and they are usually the same lads that will be debating the football or having a pre-match pint. Which is why it is such a taboo subject, how would football fans react to a footballer that they know is gay? And how would all those macho alpha male players react to knowing that they have a team mate that is batting for the other team? You can’t really compare it to the rise of black footballers as they are two separate subjects and whereas that was an issue of race, homosexuality is a lifestyle choice (or you’re gay from birth – whichever side of the argument you want to be on but I don’t really have enough knowledge on what that argument is about).

You hear all the rumours about players that are gay, I never know where they start. I won’t list any I’ve heard because truth be told they probably have no factual basis, but most fans have discussed this subject at least once and you’re often given replies of “I heard *insert player here* is gay”. And there are rumours because to my knowledge I don’t actually recall a modern high profile player that has came out as gay. I also never get why it has to be covered so in depth by the media, how is it news that someone is a homosexual, why does it have to do the rounds? I don’t really care if someone is gay or not, it’s about as newsworthy to me as my mam telling me she’s just come back from work. You never see headlines about people being straight, the fact that it is news almost suggests that it is the wrong option which is nonsense and why I don’t care for it being news – it doesn’t have much significant meaning to me whether a person wants to be straight or gay and it shouldn’t be a big issue.

But pretty much everyone either knows a gay person or has met one. It’s very likely that there are gay footballers but they probably live in fear that knowledge of this might alienate people. The subject itself is tricky because you have no idea how people will react to it. At university I had a mate who was a Brighton fan and if you are unfamiliar with Brighton, it is pretty much known as gay capital of Britain as it is a popular place to go for gay people (particularly from London) in the summer time. But the stereotype is that everyone from Brighton is gay and therefore their fans deserve to hear about it. I only went to two Brighton away games and I have been assured that the chants of “Gay! Gay! Gay! Gay! Gay! Gay!” are as common in all Brighton games as they were at those two. Stuff like this leads you to question how worthwhile it would be for a footballer to let the world know he is gay, as this sort of reaction could be a real burden on not only them but the team as well as it is hateful distraction that isn’t welcome.

This is why football isn’t ideal for this sort of thing. People should have the right to be gay without any sort of announcement or burden, but it will always change opinions. I’m in no doubt that there are a lot of football fans that would be accepting of a footballer being gay, if you have any sense it shouldn’t change your opinion, but even though black footballers are welcomed with open arms by football fans, racism still exists. Not just those incidents reported in Eastern Europe that Sky report, if you’re sitting in the stadium you’ve more than likely heard someone use a racial slur against a black player. Chris Kamara spoke about racism in the modern game, at one point he was even told that when they were making racist remarks against Emile Heskey, they were not intended to offend Kamara because “they didn’t consider him black”. In the 21st century cowardly fans shouting from their seat, in the knowledge that the players can’t react, resort to using vulgar language against black players and it is more than likely that this would be the same for a gay footballer. Hell, it even exists within the game, just look at Michael Ballack’s agent who called the entire German squad gay for not winning the World Cup and we all know that the reason they didn’t win it was because of Paul the psychic octopus.

I myself am not personally gay and I don’t try to push “gay rights” in peoples face but I do believe in common sense. I can bet in the future that high profile player will come out as gay, but the real question is to how it will be handled by the supporters and if it would change people’s feelings towards that player. Sure they might be abused by fans for their lifestyle, but if they can put it aside, block it out and show that they are a good player, it could change a lot of opinions and let people know that gay people are not some giant machine that is coming to destroy the world. The weird thing about this subject is that it isn’t something that is spoke about heavily in the mainstream media, but instead it is subject discussed by fans. I’m not saying we should get ten ex-professionals around a table and list down which footballers are gay, but it would be interesting to hear a high profile player or ex-pro turned pundit if they knew any players and how footballers feel about the subject of homosexuality. It almost echoes the American army with their “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which is without a doubt one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. If you aren’t aware of it, you can be gay in the army but you can’t let anyone know you are gay. Apparently a gay solider might distract the soldiers, but to be honest if you try to have sex with any type of co-worker then that is considered unprofessional.

The bottom line is that moderate to extreme “homophobia” exists in our culture, but gay people are accepted in everyday life, so why should it be different for football? I know I said I didn’t really get why people had to make a big announcement about the fact that they are gay, but if that is the way of the world then why should a footballer cover it up? Actually, like I previously mentioned, I don’t get why being gay is even an issue, so this whole debate is built on pretty shallow foundations. I do know however that there are a lot of gay people who are fed up of people using slurs like “gay” and “fag” to describe people and want it to change. Many famous gay people are often seen as figures who have the ability to change opinions and make it more acceptable to be gay, yet there are none in football. I’m not saying we need gay footballers, but on average it is likely that there are a few gay footballers, so why should they cover it up?

Fans are unforgiving in what they say and every game for a gay footballer could end up having a similar atmosphere to a Brighton away day, but if this were the case, the ability to over come this would speak louder than any words could. Should gay footballers be accepted? Absolutley! Would we see a barrage of offensive chants directed towards them? Who knows…

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  1. Joey

    August 23, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    A good read, this article: I appreciate the continuous thread of “why all the fuss” paired with “I get it, but its sort of sad”. For me, I live within a pop-culture fascinated community and to some extent it puts the meat and bread on the table (I am an actor). So, I have that prurient curiosity that occasionally has me twitching at the neighbors curtains. That said, once the personal lifestyle of a sports player dominates the public eye I hold stead-fast to their stats.
    I love football for the game AND for the players. If a player happens to be gay I have to admit I may want to see a picture of him and his boyfriend, but I could care less who he is loving/shagging as long as the football continues to pulse with the heartbeat of the world.

    • Rob McCluskey

      August 25, 2010 at 6:02 am

      Hi Joey, thanks for your comments.

      It is interesting that you mentioned your profession making you interested in this sort of thing, i wonder though that football and acting being such a different mould of person (bar Vinny Jones haha) if footballers themselves could accept it as much considering they’re all generally the alpha male type.

  2. Dave C

    August 16, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Interesting subject – you should maybe put it on EPL Talk to bring it to a wider readership. Although I recommend you tidy up the article a bit, cos it feels a little waffley and unfocused in parts.

    It would be interesting what would happen if a player officially came out. I have a feeling that all of the mockery from the crowd would fade down pretty quickly – after all, if a guy is openly gay, calling him “gay” isn’t really much of an insult, and any variation thereon will have been heard a million times before.

    I think the bigger problem might be whether managers perceive that having a gay player in the team might affect team chemistry. But I doubt it, since managers have no qualms about picking pretty much anyone as long as they can do a job on the field.

    • Rob McCluskey

      August 16, 2010 at 6:09 pm

      it isn’t an insult but that would be the intention.

      I just think its hard to know how fans would react as it isn’t too socially unacceptable to use gay slurs in every day language. I’m not saying that I think it’s ok to use them, just that they are used all the time and it doesn’t seem to have as much malice in it for people as the use of say a racial slur in our culture. Like the example I gave, people freely shout gay chants at Brighton fans.

      • Dave C

        August 17, 2010 at 1:39 pm

        I know it would be intended as an insult, but once they realize that it’s not really bothering the player, I think it would die down. I imagine that once a player has officially and publicly “come out”, the dialogue between that player and abusive fans might go something like this:

        Abusive fans: “Hey [openly gay player X], you’re totally gay”.
        Openly gay player X: “err…yes I am, everyone knows that already, and I’m completely comfortable with it.”
        Abusive fans: “Oh….errr….ok”. (and then they’d move on to abusing someone else for being fat or slow or not very good).

        Obviously the abusive fans might use less socially acceptable terms than just “gay”, but I really don’t think this would be particularly widespread in English culture, just as you never really hear the N-word or monkey noises directed at black players any more.

        • Rob McCluskey

          August 17, 2010 at 4:42 pm

          Well racism still exists in the stands, like I mentioned with the Chris Kamara thing, but it’s like to use racial slurs in our culture is unacceptable, you’re not supposed to say it and if you do it’s often looked down upon, but if you use terms like ‘fag’ or ‘gay’ (say just as an insult), the majority of people don’t see that as bad.

          I’d like to think it wouldn’t be a big deal in football, but you just can’t tell really, like the Brighton thing – the majority of the crowd will happily shout “gay! gay! gay” at them, make gay related chants or bend their wrist at them, but could they signal out a player for abuse because of their sexuality.

  3. Chris

    August 15, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Football will have to wait for its own Gareth Thomas or Donal Óg Cusack. The Guardian reported in May that PR guy Max Clifford “advised at least two Premier League footballers not to come out” because of persistent homophobia in football.

    Fashenu is discussed in the article as well, as a cautionary tale.

    • Rob McCluskey

      August 15, 2010 at 6:52 pm

      I just wonder how fans will react to it, there will definetley be some that will no doubt hurl abuse, but will there be the mob effect that could really do even more damage to the game? It seems it is a bit of an invisible issue in football, you never hear it talked about in the mainstream.

      I also wonder if other players know of gay footballers and how they react to it.

      • Letycia

        February 7, 2012 at 6:31 am

        I knew as soon as I saw the word honey who it was.Glad to see you
        etexicd and we will work on making it another great christmas for
        you. Texans and Colts huh? For some reason I thought I remembered
        you saying you were a Chiefs fan? Either way, that game will be
        interesting to see how they handle no Peyton Manning. The Colts are
        hoping for Collins to fill in the same way he did for Tennesse. He
        played like a Super Star for them that year.Tell your
        boyfriend/husband to make you share some with him…lol. You must be
        a handful 🙂

  4. Rob Wood

    August 15, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    Justin Fashenu committed suicide – check out the details on Wikipdeia. He was the only out gay footballer of the time – and his is a sad story. It might be “easy with Google” – less easy in real life.

  5. Chris

    August 15, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    “or you’re gay from birth — whichever side of the argu­ment you want to be on but I don’t really have enough knowl­edge on what that argu­ment is about”
    Why not try to find out in a reliable source prior to writing?

    “I don’t actu­ally recall a high pro­file player that has came out as gay.”
    Justin Fashanu – easy with Google 🙂

    • Rob McCluskey

      August 15, 2010 at 12:07 pm

      Well to be honest I do this in my spare time, I don’t really want to commit to a ton of research about gay choice/birth arguement for the sake of one sentence, I just know it exists.

      And I wasn’t aware of Justin Fashanu but thanks for that one, I was only born in 1989 so I’ve never really heard of him! But it’s weird how he is the only one and it didn’t open up the door for others, instead it just leads to all this speculation and rumours as I mentioned.

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