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Mar 13 2020
Questions Remain Over Homophobia In England's Premier League Comments (0)

Rugby-joey-barton-boycultureThis October, it will be 30 years since UK tabloid The Sun ran an infamous story with the headline: “£1 Million Football Star: I AM GAY.”

The story was based around soccer player Justin Fashanu, someone who has become a kind of reference point for talking about footballers coming out. The story was printed with Fashanu’s consent, but much of it and the reaction to it embodied all the worst of homophobic reporting at the time.

Fashanu’s story is often misunderstood, perhaps wilfully, and we will probably never know just what happened in the lead up to his suicide in 1998. But one fact remains incontrovertible: Justin Fashanu is the only footballer in England’s top soccer league to have come out as gay. There have been 1000s of players to play Premier League football since its creation in 1992, and not one has come out. You don’t need to be a statistics guru to appreciate that something is wrong here.

Dressing Room Culture Has Changed

What are the chances of a high-profile player coming out? It’s anyone’s guess. A bookmaker received fierce criticism back in 2015 for setting out odds on the first Premier League player to come out as gay, and the content was rightly removed. There is no point speculating on who or when, and you would have more chance in guessing the result of the American roulette But what we do know is that the reception from other players would be a supportive one. The culture of homophobia seems to be all but gone from the dressing room; at least, according to many players. 

Indeed, The Liverpool player, James Milner, recently argued that it would be much easier for a player to come out now, saying, “I don’t think there would be even the slightest issue. Do people honestly think a player would be picked on or shunned because he was gay?”And one finds it difficult to argue with Milner. Modern sports stars are given media training, and awareness and respect are drilled into them. Look at what happened to ruby player Israel Folau when he made homophobic comments. Any player found with similar views in the Premier League would get similar treatment — ostracization from the sport.

Homophobia Still Exists on the Terraces

But it’s not fellow players that gay players will fret about — it’s the fans. Just last December, a game between Premier League sides Brighton & Hove Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers saw homophobic chants, despite there being no out gay players on the pitch. An Everton vs. Chelsea game saw similar scenes. In the lower leagues, the situation can get much worse.

To be fair to the authorities, they usually eject anyone making overt homophobic gestures and publicise the fact when they do so. Although, many believe the game’s authorities should do more to pinpoint perpetrators. But there is also a culture among some fans — not all of them, mind you — that homophobia is funny and not on a par with, for example, racism.

One a year, the Premier League trots out its Rainbow Laces campaign to “show support for all LGBT people in football.” While it’s admirable they are doing something; there is a kind of corporate feel about it all. The campaign runs in early December, after which it seems it’s packed up and forgotten about.

It seems, like so many instances of the past, it’s going to require someone to punch up; and to be brave like Justin Fashanu. The times might have changed, and it may be easier. But we know that it’s difficult for a footballer to come out today; because if it were easy, they would have done so already.