The only gay in the premiership

Gareth Thomas, the Rugby Union legend, has possibly taken the bravest step of his career.  He has “come out” that he is gay.  So what I hear people sigh!

This is a big issue for a number of reasons.

Gareth Thomas (Munster Vs Cardiff Blues) - Thanks to Clare Courier (flickr)

Firstly, Gareth is Wales most capped player, and perhaps more importantly he is still playing professional Rugby (for the Cardiff Blues). It is unprecedented for a Rugby Union star to come out whilst still a playing professional.  For a player of Gareth’s stature to come out it is incredible.  Players often shy away from this issue for fear of fans reactions, loss of sponsorship and lack of support from their clubs! For Gareth to face all this down and come out should be supported and acknowledged to be a truly brave act.  How the public reacts is incredibly important as it will set a precedent for all other gay sport stars who are thinking about coming out (at the moment in Rugby Union there is an openly gay referee but no player that I am aware of). 

Secondly, this is not just important for Rugby but sets a precedent for all other major sports.  At the moment, out of the 500 professional footballers in the UK, there are no openly gay footballers.  It is highly unlikely that this reflects the reality of footballer’s actual sexuality.  Footballers are role models for millions of people around the world.  To show that sexuality has nothing to do with your professional capabilities (or your ability to lead an ordinary life) would be incredibly positive.  Whether we like it or not, footballers are elevated onto pedestals by fans.  The only problem is they know more than anyone how easy it is to fall off that pedestal. Footballing history has not been kind to those who have not followed the script.

Justin Fashanu, the first million pound black footballer, came out and was hounded by fans and the public to such an extent that the coroner said it contributed to him committing suicide. We all remember the taunts that Grahame Le Saux received …all these chants seemed to be based on nothing other than the fact he read the Guardian and has a university education.  Le Saux was married…but he did collect Antiques!  Sadly, it was not just fans who taunted Le Saux, do you remember Robbie Fowlers taunts? http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/premier_league/article2419068.ece

Then there was the whole incident that involved heterosexual left back Ashley Cole.  The News of the World, wrongly, accused a premiership footballer of taking part in a Gay orgy.  This was not the interesting bit of the story.  What was interesting for me was despite not being named in the story; Cole went to extraordinary lengths to dispute the accusations even taking the paper to court.  Check out – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/article-378786/Cole-sue-gay-footballer-orgy-claims.html

I have said before and I will say again.  There is no social force in this world more powerful than football.  If you want to change anything in this world, start with football.  Sadly, for improving the lives of millions of people around the world affected by homophobia this looks like a slow process.  The Football Association (FA) has introduced a ruling that puts homophobic chanting on a similar scale to racist chanting.  There has been scattered reinforcement of this ruling (especially at the Seagulls ground who suffer disproportionate abuse).  To say that the FA is a slow moving conservative body would be an understatement.  This ruling however, at least sets a target to aim. 

Hopefully, footballers will follow in Gareth’s brave example.  Having openly gay footballers will be one of the biggest steps towards a more equal society that we could take.  All secretly gay sports stars though will be looking on with great interest to see how fans, sponsors and club treat Gareth.  Let’s hope it is with respect.

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8 Comments

Filed under Football, sexuality

8 responses to “The only gay in the premiership

  1. Pingback: Welcoming Steven Davies announcement | Hynd's Blog

  2. Pingback: The FA still failing to tackle homophobia « Hynd's Blog

  3. Dave

    ” ..To say that the FA is a slow moving conservative body would be an understatement.”

    This is very true, especially when it comes to combatting homophobia. I wrote to the FA in March 2009, inviting them to get some professional footballers to contribute to the DVD that they were planning:

    http://newsarchive.awardspace.com/fighting_prejudice_in_sport_and_society.html

    I suggested they might ask Rio Ferdinand to help out in assembling some of the English team, like he’d done for Comic Relief.

    Dave
    http://newsround-bias.blogspot.com/

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  4. Tom McArthur

    Great article, Steve. Sport needs to open doors to the gay community and we all need to challenge the “gay-banter” that is endemic in all sports.

    As a semi-professional rugby player, I do feel uneasy now about my own (light-hearted, but crass and stupid) ‘gay’ jibes to fellow team-mates. Racism is completely unnacceptable in modern sport, so why homophobia? One could go so far as to say that UK sport, certainly for males, is institutionally homophobic.

    Good work for Alfie to finally have the courage to come out, though! He will still be remembered as being a world class athelete. Sexuality matters not.

    Please feel free to read my short article on Alfie over at http://inatthecorner.wordpress.com

    Tom

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  5. As ever Steve, an excellent read.

    Considering my indifference towards football I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on the Heart of Midlothian terraces and it never fails to amaze me how some of their fans continue to be the Scottish nation’s greatest biggots, racists and homophobes, not to mention the potty-mouth language.

    But then I’m sure that’s just the sort of criticism they would expect from a goody-two-shoes, Guardian reading arse-bandit.

    Thanks for the blogging, keep up the good work.

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  6. James Pople

    Good article, Steve. Having been to hundreds of games I’ve witnessed a fair amount of shocking homophobic abuse. I read the article you linked about Le Saux – can’t believe some of the rubbish he was put through on the pitch. It’s fair to say it is still a huge problem in football, and it is far and away more of an issue than racism these days. Sadly, when you’ve got prehistoric, conservative organisations like the FA running football in this country, and a governing body as totally inept as FIFA then there is a lack of forward thinking and courage in the world of football to address issues like this quickly. Many football supporters by nature simply follow a crowd, and lack the integrity and intelligence to form their own opinions and make a stand against abuse of any kind. – Coming from someone who used to love going to football, but has fallen out of love with the sport due to the saturation of money in the game, the culture of footballers themselves and issues such as homophobia, which, sadly, is still rife in players, managers, supporters and the authorities involved in the game.

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  7. Rose Gregoire-Kaye

    All very true, and, as always, eloquently put! but how would you recommend that we show support and reward such a brave step short of buying a rugby ticket???

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    • Good question…

      It needs to be tackled at an institutional level, but as with most social problems I think there is room for your average Joe to help out. I guess, we can all (especially those who play rugby and football) start challenging the anti-gay banter that is common place. Racist banter is broadly no longer accepted, it would be nice to see the anti-gay banter put on the same level. It takes quite a lot of bravery to do this though without becoming “the one with no sense of humour” etc… Have a read of Grahame Le Saux’s ordeal (linked off the blog). It is a very interesting read.

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