By Alex Netherton
IT’S absurd, but I cannot name a single gay footballer in any division in Britain. Statistically, it’s unlikely that not a single player of thousands is not gay. Realistically though, it can’t surprise us why not a single player has come out. Just imagine the reception they’d get, and consider how much, tacitly at least, it’s us who are to blame.
I went to a thoroughly middle-class school. The majority of the pupils were well-off and white, and I could count about thirty fights in the whole of my time there. I don’t mean thirty fights that I had, I mean thirty fights between the 900 pupils who were there at any one time. In short, it wasn’t exactly Scum. It wasn’t even Grange Hill. A reflection of modern society, I can remember very few cases of racism – in fact, I only vividly remember one case, and I still remember the name of the pupil, because I still consider him vermin.
However, the go-to insults were the usual suspects, ‘gay’, or ‘bent’. This was meant to be a decent school, and we weren’t exactly going through the thesaurus when it came to teasing. Racism was a no-no, homophobia was fair game. Luckily, all the school friends I still know have grown out of lazy prejudice. We’ve all realised that there’s little dignity in homophobia.
Now, in the last twenty years British football deserves credit to the efforts made to combat racism, the Kick It Out campaign especially. Today, there’s a few things to remember about the success of Kick It Out now we’re overdue doing the same for homophobia.
One, you can’t exactly shockingly ‘come out’ as foreign, or as an ethnic minority. Surnames and skin colour pretty much give it away. It can make life so much harder facing this prejudice, but you don’t get the choice of being a closet African, or keeping your Italian tendencies away from the press.
The advantage for the Kick It Out campaign is that bigots in the crowd and the media are confronted with the people that represent their prejudice. The presence of ethnic minorities on the pitch forces to get over it against the backdrop of an improving society. From the 1980s onwards, there were undeniable improvements. In 2010, most people know that racism is A Bad Thing. Racism is overtly legislated against, and political correctness has become the victor in the consensus. Yes, there are still problems. Xenophobia is still present, and so is racism, but consider this: what discrimination persists is opposed so often that even the Conservatives realise that they have to pretend that they’re on our side with this.
In simple terms, if you’re a racist supporting any football team in England, the majority of the crowd are going to be set against you, the stewards are now thankfully likely to remove you, you might even get a criminal record. At the start of the Kick It Out campaign, there was enough positive support. Contrast this with the situation that we’ve got with homophobia and football.
The one footballer in Britain to come out is Justin Fashanu. How was he received by the public? He killed himself, partly due to his treatment by footballers, managers and the crowd. Now, his sexuality wasn’t his only problem, and this was many years ago, but it’s not likely to convince anyone to come out now.
Most of us now have colleagues from most cultures, sexualities and religions. I’ve never seen overt racism, I’ve never seen religious discrimination. However, and it would surprise me if it were not the same for others, I have seen homophobic remarks accepted as part of a jokey atmosphere. This is not the society to help a gay footballer.
Last season, a campaign was launched, starring a viral internet advert against homophobia (see video, below). Like the Kick It Out campaign, it starred all the biggest Premier League stars. No, hang on, I mean I starred none of the biggest Premier League stars. A mixture of commercial pressure, perhaps even prejudice of some footballers asked to take part, and fear of public reaction was blamed. Football, for all the arguments, is stuck in the holding pen.
Also, homophobia isn’t exactly banished from the mainstream press. You’ll not find it in The Guardian or The Independent’s editorial or letter sections, but just ten years ago the Sun posed the question, ‘Are we being run by a gay mafia?’ Jan Moir recently got both cheers and jeers for her tribute to Stephen Gately. Further, celebrities rarely come out voluntarily. They either start their career out, or they’re forced into a friendly confession by the tabloids using the argument, ‘Cooperate and we’ll play nice, don’t and we’ll out you anyway.’
When you see the average editorial policy of a tabloid, or The Mail and The Express can you imagine what they’d do on the backpage? Think of the love and compassion shown to Muslims in the press, consider the chants that Mido – a prize prick, but not exactly a fundamentalist – was subjected to. Coupled with the socially stunted, childish rumours spread about Ashley Cole or James Beattie on internet forums, just imagine the newspaper and terrace reaction if a footballer suddenly told the world he was gay.
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