Further to my recent blogpost about the two gay Premier League players who are planning to “come out”, Ruth Hunt writes in today’s Independent that, according to surveys, seven in ten fans have heard homophobic abuse on the football terraces. Seven in ten, and that can’t even include the Premier League, presumably, where there are no longer terraces. My question is this: are the other three in ten deaf?
As I predicted – and I don’t think this took much predicting – that thanks to the Mirror’s story, people are beginning to speculate as to who the gay players are. One player rumoured to be gay – I feel almost sick writing this – was Manchester United’s Luke Shaw who responded by saying “It’s not me.”
Ms Hunt then writes: “Thanks for the clarification Luke Shaw; thanks for letting the world know that one of the people the papers are talking about definitely isn’t you. But why did you have to clarify? And why is it headline news that two footballers are gay?” I’m afraid she really doesn’t get it, although I concede that she comes from exactly the same place as me, saying that someone’s sexuality shouldn’t matter. Having a pop at Shaw misses the point.
“We’re still a long way from a world where all people can live freely and be themselves”, she continues, “regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” I hope I am making myself clear in pointing out where Ms Hunt isn’t being clear. In one sentence, she condemns Shaw for denying that he is gay but in another she gives the reasons why footballers don’t come out.”
It is difficult to put myself in Luke Shaw’s position. He is young, I’m not, he’s a terrific footballer, I never was. But if I was him and someone asked me whether I was gay, what would I say? If I said no, someone like Ms Hunt would have a pop at me and if I said “It’s none of your business” then what do you think the seven in ten – I put the ratio as far higher – have to say about it? I’d get homophobic abuse because, many would conclude, I had something to hide. It is not, yet, unacceptable to shout homophobic abuse at footballers in the same way it is unacceptable to shout racial abuse. If I was a gay footballer, I doubt that I would publicly reveal my sexuality. I would, of course, support unreservedly any player who wanted to let everyone know he was gay but there are still some major stigmas in society in general and football in particular and homosexuality is still one of them.
When you get a headline like ‘Manchester United star Luke Shaw denies rumours that he is gay” next to what is, overall, a sympathetic but, in my view, ill-considered article, the Independent does the debate no favours and it is little different from what you might read on the front pages of the gutter press red tops.