With the start of the Premier League Season upon us. We here at Ditch the Label think it’s about time we tackle one of football’s most prominent issues, pun definitely intended. For those unaware, the English Premier League is the top division of English football and is filled with the best teams in England. This begs the question. With over 800 players in the EPL, why are there no players who are openly out? Perhaps the answers are…
Lets face it, English football doesn’t exactly have the best history with acceptance. The Graeme Le Sux bullying saga springs to mind. To cut a long story short, Le Sux’s career was almost ruined by the homophobic comments and bullying that he was on the receiving end of. This is bound to put off future players from coming out and can you really blame them? If this is how a player who isn’t gay was treated, how would players be treated if they were?
Fortunately as a society, we are now generally more accepting than we were back in the 90’s and the players responsible for the bullying have since apologised, admitting immaturity and ignorance. Football, as a whole, has almost caught up with us but there’s still a long way to go…
Maybe players just want to keep their private lives separate from their footballing careers.
This is a fair point and everyone’s privacy should be respected. However, the impact of just one player coming out could give hundreds, if not thousands of players and fans all over the world the confidence to be open about themselves too. Representation and visibility is something that the LGBT community is missing in football. Some players like, Joey Barton do speak out but frankly, ‘some players’ just isn’t enough. Sure it’s fine for footballers to say that they have no problem with gay people but it’s going to take much more than a couple of open minded individuals. What we need to see is an industry wide change of attitude…
Is it still a big deal?
Unfortunately in the EPL, it is still a big deal. Sure, we all wish it wasn’t and we wish football had already caught up with the rest of the world but to be fair, it’s not necessarily football’s fault as a sport. It’s the fault of normalised homophobia within sports locker rooms IMO. Brian Clough recounts a “dressing down” he gave Justin Fashanu after hearing rumours that he was going to gay clubs. Just look at Clough’s autobiography for example:
“‘Where do you go if you want a loaf of bread?’ I asked him. ‘A baker’s, I suppose.’ ‘Where do you go if you want a leg of lamb?’ ‘A butcher’s.’ ‘So why do you keep going to that bloody poofs’ club?”
This certainly raises some eyebrows… and thats just what he admitted to saying.
Abuse like this led Justin Fashanu to take his own life. As much as we try and address this with a bit of humour, it is important to recognise that this is an incredibly serious topic and needs to be treated as such.
The homophobia itself has been significantly reduced but the stigma is still there. The fact that being a gay footballer is a big deal is ridiculous but it is still a big deal… All it would take is one player to come out and it wouldn’t be such an issue.
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How women’s football compares
The FA Women’s super league has a mix of straight, gay and bisexual players. The amazing thing is, in women’s football, sexuality just isn’t a big deal. Unfortunately it didn’t get there overnight.
Women’s football hasn’t necessarily had an internal problem with homophobia but players have been stereotyped by fans in the past. Many footballers such as Casey Stoney have said that it “didn’t make coming out any easier” and if anything it made it harder and scarier. Fortunately, fans of women’s football fans have come to be incredibly supportive and sexuality is now almost a non-isssue. I say ‘almost’ because there are still a minority of people who are abusive, but their homophobic behaviour doesn’t represent the majority of football fans.
In women’s football it’s ok to be yourself and this is the way it should be in all sports for all genders.
How can we address it?
It isn’t the players responsibility to be comfortable with coming out. The F.A. must take this issue more seriously and have to make sure that gay footballers are comfortable with coming out and help create an environment where it is okay to do so. TBF, they are doing their part to reduce homophobia within locker rooms. “What are they doing?” well, they are giving the English academy players regular sensitivity training. Time will tell just how effective it is.
It’s not just affecting players…
As a Chelsea fan it’s kinda hard for me to see games live. So, the only real chance I have to watch live football is to watch my local team, Brighton. As a wee lad I would watch Brighton games often but as I grew up I got sick of the abuse that we received. Now don’t get me wrong I can handle as much “banter” as anyone but the homophobic abuse that Brighton fans and players are subjected to is disgusting. With chants like “does your boyfriend know you’re here?”, “you’re gay and you know you are” and “we can see you holding hands” dominating games. I think we can all agree that homophobia in 2017 is as silly as the new ABBA penalty system.
Football fans as a whole have really grown up over the last 20 years and the strides made toward complete acceptance is good but footballing campaigns do have a bad habit of focusing on one issue at a time. It is crucial that football kicks homophobia out (pun intended again). We need LGBT footballers to feel more than comfortable coming out and it’s impossible to know how fans would react but we predict that whoever they may be, they will be rewarded for their courage. We hope that they will be hailed by the media and inspire many other footballers to follow their lead.
Have any opinions of your own? Feel free to let us know in Community and help us blow the full time whistle on homophobia in football.