Image Credit- The Mirror
The lack of openly gay players in professional football is an issue that cannot be explained by one single factor. It’s a subject raising many questions not only about the sport itself, but about society in general.
Currently, across England’s top four divisions, there is not one openly gay player. The odds of this being true are extremely small, but still the issue remains a taboo, often swept under the carpet.
It’s certainly true that football can’t claim to be tolerant. Increases in racial abuse, a saddening revival of hooliganism, along with general fan abuse often categorised as ‘banter’ can make it a hostile place for lovers of the beautiful game.
Research by the Football v Homophobia campaign in 2018 found 63% of LGBT+ supporters had experienced or witnessed abuse at matches over sexuality or gender identity. These combining factors means that it may come as no surprise that no player has made the courageous leap into the unknown. It is very probable they are scared of the reaction from fans, the press, and possibly even their teammates.
But there must be room for positive thought. Megan Rapinoe, who captained the USA to their 4th Women’s World Cup title last year, is a great example of an openly gay professional at the pinnacle of the sport. As is FA Women’s Super League top scorer Vivianne Miedema, who is in a relationship with teammate Lisa Evans. Miedema’s belief that “homosexuality in football will not be fully accepted until an elite men’s player comes out as gay” is one which rings true profoundly.
It seems the Men’s game could learn a significant amount from the Women’s. Thomas Hitzlsperger, who played Premiership football for Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton, capped 52 times for Germany, came out in 2014 a year after his retirement.
Arguably the most prominent openly gay male in football, he states “the important thing for me is to show that being homosexual and a professional football player is something that is normal. The perceived contradiction between playing football, the man’s game, and being homosexual is nonsense”.
Nicknamed ‘The Hammer’, famous for his tough-tackling and no-nonsense attitude, he believes a lack of role models has hindered progress. He stated, ‘what holds us back is that there aren’t many openly gay athletes, particularly footballers. And being the number one sport in the world, that means there aren’t any role models. There aren’t any ‘out’ gay footballers to look up to.”
The attitude exemplified by Liverpool fan favourite James Milner is one we should take note of. He argued “I don’t think there would be even the slightest issue in the dressing room. Do people honestly think a player would be picked on because he was gay?”
Whilst the issue remains, the desire for an inclusive and diverse game is widespread. Hopefully, the aspiration for football to be an accepting, open and tolerant sport is one which is just over the horizon.