Despite the English Football Association claiming there around 500 gay men playing football in England, not one player has come out. While gay men have come out of the closet in other countries in Europe, and even the United States, English football has been devoid of openly homosexual men.
In March 2011, Swedish football player Anton Hysen became the first openly gay male player in Europe. The son of former Liverpool player Glen Hysen, Anton has called for gay English Premier League players to finally step out of the closet. That call as gone on deaf ears.
Hysen gained praise from around the world for his bravery in coming out. The Swedish footballer may not play for the biggest club in Sweden, but that doesn’t make his announcement to the world any less empowering.
Robbie Rogers isn’t English. But when he told the world that he was a gay footballer, it raised the interest that an Englishman may soon open up. An American who was raised in California, Rogers had a conservative ‘American dream’ childhood. An international, Rogers excelled in the United States’ Major League Soccer before signing with Leeds United in 2012.
“Life is simple when your secret is gone. Gone is the pain that lurks in the stomach at work, the pain from avoiding questions, and at last the pain from hiding such a deep secret.” – Robbie Rogers
After leaving Leeds in 2013, Rogers became the first football player since 1990 to come out while playing in England. Following his announcement, Rogers said he was “fearful” to come out while playing for Leeds. It took his release from the club and a step away from the game to realise he could come out as a gay football player. Now 30, Rogers is back home in California playing for Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS. Rogers has blended into the landscape four years on from his life changing announcement.
In 1990, Justin Fashanu became the first gay English football player. The striker wasn’t just the first gay football player, he was the first £1 million black footballer. In the backwaters of the early 90s, being gay was far from easy. Add in being black, and life for a person got more difficult even if they weren’t in the spotlight like Fashanu was.
Long before he came out, Fashanu had plenty of success. First with Norwich City and later with Notts County; but the player’s life was “chaotic”. He changed clubs frequently, perhaps to keep his secret. After coming out of the closest, Fashanu spent time playing in Canada, England, Scotland, New Zealand and the US.
In 1998, following allegations of sexual assault in the US state of Maryland. Fashanu returned to England, and soon after, was found to have committed suicide.
Compared to 1990 when Justin Fashanu announced he was gay to the British press, life has changed for many homosexual men and women. However, for anyone wanting to see loud and proud gay footballers, they should look towards the women’s game. According to Gay Star News, the 2015 Women’s World Cup showcased 14 openly gay or bisexual players.
England’s Lianne Sanderson was one of the 14 female stars. The former Arsenal youth player has enjoyed a great career that has seen her play in Spain and the US. During her time playing for the National Premier Soccer League in America, Sanderson was a role model for young girls. In 2015, Sanderson said she never thought she would be accepted as she had by the fans in Boston.
While the women’s game has a number of gay and bisexual stars, there may be none bigger, currently, than US star Megan Rapinoe. The US star and Women’s NBA player Sue Bird are in a high-profile relationship. Both athletes have been elite stars in their respective sports, and their relationship announcement in the summer July 2017, was a step forward for women in an America overshadowed by Donald Trump and the decline of women’s rights.
Rapinoe has been outspoken on social issues. In 2016, she began to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem as protest against the injustices of people based on sexuality, race and religion in the US. Her stance on a variety of issues has made her a role model for the LBGT community worldwide.
Although a male football player hasn’t come out of the closet in the English Premier League, it should only be a matter of time until one does. It will take bravery and a support network from players, coaches and fans for it to finally happen. However, when it does, it should lead to a change in the way gay players are viewed by all.