When you look at premiership footballers in England, statistically it is highly likely that there are several players that fall under the LGBT* umbrella. However, there are no current players that are openly gay. One of the few players that had made public their sexuality was Justin Fashanu, who ‘came out’ to the press in 1990. This was not an easy experience for the player, with his own brother publicly disowning him and even his own team manager, Brian Clough, making disproving remarks. Fashanu later committed suicide in May 1998.
It is expected that many players keep their sexuality a secret to avoid homophobic chants. Max Clifford, the famous publicist, advises players not to come out as affects their brand value. Although there will be athletes out there that do recognise themselves as LGBT*, what needs to be avoided is a witch hunt. There are several sports stars that have already had their sexuality questioned publicly in the media including the swimmer Ian Thorpe and tennis player Richard Gasquet, both of whom have had to try and quell the constant rumours surrounding their sexuality.
There have, of course, been some openly gay sports stars at the top of their game including the likes of Martina Navratilova, who won 18 grand slam tennis singles titles along with another 41 doubles titles making her one of the most highly decorated tennis players of all time. Another prominent gay tennis player was Billie Jean King, who was forced to publicly acknowledge her sexuality by a lawsuit brought by her then partner. More current representatives are former Welsh rugby union player Gareth Thomas who publicly came out in 2009, in the hope it would help young rugby players in a similar position. There is even representation among our Olympic and Paralympic medallists, by Carl Hester, who won gold in the team dressage competition, and Lee Pearson, who won a gold, silver and bronze at the Paralympics also in equestrian.
Trans* sport stars are hard to come by as for almost all sports you need to compete under binary genders. Although the International Olympic Committee has approved transgender athletes to compete, it is only after the individual has completed certain requirements in the transition from one sex to another. Many of these processes can take long periods of time by which point the athletes are past their peak. A few athletes have made the transition but normally after their competitive careers were over.
Of course, the other side of the argument is that LGBT* athletes should no longer be such a big deal; as the slogan from Stonewall states, “some people are gay, get over it”. So should we be pressuring football stars and other athletes to come out? My own view is no, coming out is a very personal experience and no one should have to endure having it splashed across the media. But do you even need LGBT* role models in sport? I would say that this is relatively unimportant and that any sports star at the top of their game should be enough to inspire anyone to participate in sport.
For me personally I don’t think a gay athlete would have influenced my decision to take part in sport anymore. Nor would I say homophobia ever has put me off competing and, if anything, I would say being gay has only spurred me on more, to prove that gay people can take part in sport and be good at it. Admittedly, the sports I currently do all train in a mixed sex setting, and this probably has an effect on the laddish (and ladyish) behaviour of the team. After all, having a one night stand with your team mate isn’t the best move as you have to see them several times a week. But at the same time, just like my running ability, my sexuality has had no affect on my ability to down a pint, and I can still be as much of a lad as the rest of the team. Yes it would be nice to see a bigger LGBT* representation in sport, but I’m quite happy with the few flag bearers we have, and wouldn’t want anyone subjected to a trial by media.