Pro footballer pens open letter
NOT GAY - Paul Scholes and Gary Neville kiss on the pitch in 2010
The subject of coming out as a gay or bisexual in the world of premiership football has once again come back into the news. In an open letter meant for the game’s governing bodies as well as his fans, a premier league footballer has spoken candidly about his anguish at not being able to come out. He talks openly about how he doesn’t think football is ready for an openly gay player in the premiership.
The unnamed football star references the Justin Fashanu Foundation in his letter as a source of support to him. Justin Fashanu was the first footballer to ever come out, after he had retired but tragically committed suicide in 1998. The foundation has been fighting racism and homophobia in football since its inception.
His niece, Amal Fashanu, set up the foundation as she knows first-hand the pressures that this can have on someone’s mental state. In fact, the author of the letter is only one in SEVEN premiership footballers that the foundation is currently supporting.
Watford's Troy Deeney on the pitch
Watford captain Troy Deeney doesn’t necessarily agree and thinks that not only is the timing right but that every football club has a gay or bisexual player. He thinks that it’s pressure of being the first one and shouldering that responsibility is what is holding players back.
In a candid chat with Louis Theroux on his Grounded podcast, Deeney said that once one person does it the floodgates will open. ‘I genuinely believe you would get, in the first week, at least a hundred people that went ‘me too’.
A few weeks ago, former Hull City youth player Thomas Beattie became only the third footballer to come out, citing the fact that he felt he needed to retire until he could be honest about it. Now in Singapore, he says that coming out during his decade long career wasn’t an option. So, has cutting your career short simply to be honest about your sexuality become a real thing?
Who else has come out?
Thomas Beattie - BTW we so would
After Justin Fashanu and Thomas Beattie there are only two other footballers globally who have taken the plunge and come out.
Ex Leeds and USA player Robbie Rogers came out in 2013 becoming the second player ever to come out in Britain after Fashanu. The American went on to play for LA Galaxy, becoming the first openly gay man to compete in a professional sports league in the USA.
Rogers, not really of the Rovers
Germany’s Thomas Hitzlsperger came out in 2014 after retiring. He had played for the German National team at the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008. He was the highest profile footballer to come out in the world at the time.
It’s clear that this is a tipping point and players need to feel supported when it comes to their life decisions. Racism is still rife amongst the fans in football so when gay players see the abuse they receive, why would they choose to bring abuse upon themselves while they still play in the premiership. It’s no surprise that they don’t want to but as we have seen across the board, it plays havoc with someone’s mental health.
Hitzlsperger - you don't wanna know what it means in German
The letter in full:
‘As a kid, all I ever wanted to be was a footballer.
I wasn't interested in doing well at school. Instead of doing homework, every spare minute I had was spent with a ball.
In the end, it paid off. But even now I still have to pinch myself when I run out and get to play each week in front of tens of thousands of people.
However there is something that sets me apart from most of the other players in the Premier League.
I am gay.
Even writing that down in this letter is a big step for me. But only my family members and a select group of friends are aware of my sexuality. I don't feel ready to share it with my team or my manager. That's hard. I spend most of my life with these guys and when we step out on the pitch we are a team. But still, something inside me makes it impossible for me to be open with them about how I feel. I dearly hope one day soon I will be able to.
I've known since I was about 19 that I was gay.
How does it feel having to live like this?
Day-to-day, it can be an absolute nightmare. And it is affecting my mental health more and more. I feel trapped and my fear is that disclosing the truth about what I am will only make things worse.
So, although my heart often tells me I need to do it, my head always says the same thing: "Why risk it all?"
I am lucky enough to earn a very good wage. I have a nice car, a wardrobe full of designer clothes and can afford to buy anything I want for my family and friends. But one thing I am missing is companionship. I am at an age where I would love to be in a relationship. But because of the job I do the level of trust in having a long-term partner has to be extremely high.
So, at the moment, I avoid relationships at all. I dearly hope I will soon meet someone who I think I will be able to trust enough. The truth is I just don't think football is ready yet for a player to come out. The game would need to make radical changes in order for me to feel able to make that step.
The Professional Footballers Association say they are ready to help a player to come out. And they have said they will offer counselling and support to anyone who needs it. This is missing the point. If I need a counsellor I can go and book a session with one whenever I want. What those running the game need to do is educate fans, players, managers, agents, club owners - basically everyone involved in the game. If I was to make that step I'd want to know that I would be supported at each step of my journey. Right now, I don't feel I would be.
I wish I didn't have to live my life in such a way. But the reality is there is still a huge amount of prejudice in football. There are countless times I've heard homophobic chants and comments from supporters directed at no one in particular.
Strangely it doesn't really bother me during the matches. I am too focused on playing. It's when I get back on the plane or the coach and I have time to think that it gets to me. As things stand, my plan is to carry on playing for as long as I feel able to and then come out when I have retired. It was great last month to see Thomas Beattie raise his hand and admit to being gay. But the fact he had to wait until retirement tells you all you need to know. Footballers are still too scared to make the step while they are playing.
For the past year I have been getting support from the Justin Fashanu Foundation, not least to cope with the toll this is all having on my mental health. It is hard to put into words how much the foundation has helped. It has made me feel supported and understood as well as giving me the confidence to be more open and honest with myself especially. Without that support I really don't know where I'd be now. I know it might get to the point where I find it impossible to keep living a lie. If I do, my plan is to retire early and come out. I might be throwing away years of a lucrative career. But you can't put a price on your peace of mind.
And I don't want to live like this forever.’