Football for all
“8% of football fans said they would stop watching their team if they signed an openly gay player”
That was one of the ﬁndings from a recent BBC Radio 5 Live survey on attitudes to homophobia in football and sport in general, and when I ﬁrst read it I have to say I was pretty shocked.
Then, when I came to look into the issue further, I found myself doing what I feel we should all do when confronted with survey results of any kind, namely look beyond the headline-grabbing sound bites and into what the results are actually telling us.
On a basic mathematical level, the above statistic would suggest that the other 92% of those surveyed would have no such extreme reaction to supporting their club if they had an openly gay player in the squad. Now surely it’s that tolerance and acceptance, which I’m sure would not have been the case if the same survey had been conducted 20 or 30 years ago, that we should be focusing on as a positive example of how attitudes among football fans, and indeed the general public, are changing? Of course, there is still work to do, as evidenced by the 8% at the extreme end of the spectrum, but in a world which has become so divided along numerous political fault lines over the last year, I don’t feel there’s anything to really be gained by giving any further publicity to views such as those within that percentage.
The subject of openly gay players in football is one which seems to come up periodically in the media, especially in light of surveys like this, and inevitably the question is asked of how long it will be before an active top-level player comes out during their career. Of course, as an Albion fan it would be remiss of me to discuss this subject without talking about our own former player Justin Fashanu, with the club from 1985 to 1987, who came out publicly in 1990 and was able to continue his career at a lower-level in England and abroad until his tragic suicide in 1993.
More recent examples of openly gay ﬁgures in football have tended to involve players making their sexualities public after their careers have ﬁnished, such as former Leeds United winger Robbie Rogers and ex Aston Villa midﬁelder Thomas Hitzlsperger, with one notable exception being then-England women’s captain Casey Stoney who came out in 2014, and continues to play for the Arsenal Ladies team to this day.
So far though, no current male Premier League player has taken the decision to come out publicly, although rumours circulate that in fact there are multiple players whose sexuality is well known to, and accepted by, their team-mates but they have chosen not to make a public statement about it. That, of course, is their right and if I were to put myself in their shoes I could certainly understand their reticence given the media focus and spotlight that will inevitably follow the ﬁrst player who does choose to take that step. When that time comes, as it surely will, I can only hope it is a decision the player makes on their own terms and because they feel it is the right thing for them as a person at that time. While sadly you are always likely to get a minority of negative responses, the survey alone seems to show there is a general tolerance among football fans on this subject.
I’d like to ﬁnish with a hypothetical question: how would we, as Albion fans, react if either the Albion were to sign an openly gay player or if a player were to come out while playing for us? I’d like to think I’m in the majority with my view on this one, which is simply that as long as the aforementioned player is doing their job on the pitch, whether it’s scoring goals or keeping clean sheets, what they choose to get up to in their private lives is neither here nor there. That said though, I’d like to hear what our readers have to say on this subject, so please get in touch with me on Twitter – @SteveJB84 – and let me know what your view would be if such a situation were to occur. I’ll cover the feedback received in a future column.
On a similar note, if there is an issue of relevance to the LGBTQ community of Albion fans you’d like to see discussed or raised in this column, please do also feel free to contact me. I want this column to be representative, so outside input is always welcome.