Following the second retirement of Robbie Rogers from football, it got us thinking, why aren’t there more openly gay footballers out there? So I thought I’d investigate further. Robbie Rogers first retired two weeks after being released by Leeds United in February 2013, aged 25. Two weeks later he announced on his blog that he was gay. This made him the first openly gay footballer in the UK since Justin Fashanu.
Rogers wrote, “I’m a soccer player, I’m Christian, and I’m gay. Those are things that people might say wouldn’t go well together. But my family raised me to be an individual and to stand up for what I believe in.”
Rogers later stated he retired to avoid the media speculation regarding his sexuality and the scrutiny of the fans. His retirement lasted two months and he returned in April 2013 to play for LA Galaxy. He made his decision after speaking in front of a crowd of 500 at an LGBT youth event in Portland, Oregon, during which he “seriously felt like a coward”. Rogers told USA TODAY Sports, “These kids are standing up for themselves and changing the world, and I’m 25, I have a platform and a voice to be a role model. How much of a coward was I to not step up to the plate?”
In 1967, homosexuality in the United Kingdom was decriminalised, leading to a more liberal public attitude. There are lots of openly gay politicians and entertainers who remained elected and popular with little or no criticism or comment on their sexuality.
However, there has been a distinct lack of openly gay men in football. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, rumours in the press or joking between fans and players and even hostile homophobic abuse, have been common within the game.
The most famous gay footballer is Justin Fashanu, who played for Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, Manchester City, Notts County and Brighton and Hove Albion. Fashanu agreed to come out in The Sun as an exclusive story in October 1990, they ran the classy headline “£1M Footballer: I Am Gay”. In the article he claimed to have had an affair with a British MP. The Sun dragged out the tale with titillating stories of sexual encounters with unnamed MPs, football players and pop stars, which, he claims, were largely untrue.
Not only did Justin Fashanu receive vile chants from visiting fans regarding his race he was also now getting abuse about his sexuality.
In March 1998, Maryland, USA, a 17-year-old lad claimed he had been sexually assaulted after a night of drinking. Homosexual acts were illegal in Maryland at this time and the boy claimed he awoke to a sexual act being performed on him without his permission. Fashanu then fled to England before he could be arrested. On the morning of 3rd May 1998, Justin Fashanu was found hanged in a deserted lock up garage in Shoreditch, London. In his suicide note, he denied the charges, stating that the sex was consensual, and that he had fled to England because he felt he could not get a fair trial because of his homosexuality, and he added: “I realised that I had already been presumed guilty. I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family.”
Other footballers have come out as gay after retirement, perhaps the most renown being Thomas Hitzlsperger, who played in the premiership for Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton.
In other sports within the UK people are ‘coming out’ all the time, like Tom Daley (diver) Nicola Adams (boxer), Gareth Thomas (rugby player), Keegan Hirst (rugby player), Steven Davies (cricket), Casey Stoney (women’s football), Clare Balding (jockey/presenter) and Joh Amaechi (NBA- Orlando Magic).
In international sport there is Martina Navaratilova (tennis), Ian Thorpe (swimming), Liz Carmouche (MMA), Michael Sam (NFL- Dallas Cowboys), Jason Collins (NBA- New Jersey Nets), Ryan O’ Callaghan (NFL- Kansa City Chiefs) and Abby Wambach (Football).
Football has to be one of the most popular spectator sports, so is it easier to come out in sports that are less popular? In America there are a few NFL and NBA stars that have come out as gay. In fact, Jason Collins sought advice from Robbie Rogers on how to come out to the sporting world.
Is it down to Justin Fashanu’s experiences that other footballers have felt the need to hide their sexuality? Is the fear of being chanted at by rival fans? Or the fear of fake stories appearing in the press? Whatever it is, surely in these times, if a footballer is gay, most fans can see passed the sexuality? Could it even be lucrative for a Premier League footballer to come out as gay, surely lots of companies would be queuing up to use them in endorsements?
Paul Pogba recently said that openly gay footballers WOULD receive respect in the Premier League. Apparently, players are in the know who is gay and who is not. Surely if one person comes out then others will follow in support? One thing is for sure, a person’s sexuality doesn’t change them as a person and certainly doesn’t alter their ability to play football. Maybe in the next couple of years footballers will have no fear about coming out as gay. The FA has identified Football v Homophobia as its chosen campaign, partnering with the Justin campaign, to educate widely on homophobia.