Hitzlsperger wrote on his website: “Homosexuality is simply ignored in football.The media, on the other hand, have been interested in the subject for years. It’s just that the players concerned have not dared to declare their inclinations because the world of football still sees itself to some extent as a macho environment.”
This quote was taken from the Belfast Telegraph’s article titled “Graeme Le Saux’s support for Thomas Hitzlsperger”.
Graeme Le Saux, a former football player for both England and Chelsea, received years of homophobic abuse from team-mates and fans. He appeared to be different from the usual football player, taking an interest in the arts, reading the guardian newspaper and choosing not to participate in the “laddish drinking culture”, as put in the The guardian’s article. Le Saux isn’t even gay, but because he was seen as being different he was assumed to be gay.
With this story in mind, along with what happened to Justin Fashanu, (the only professional footballer to come out as gay, who took his own life in 1998 after racial and homophobic abuse) it is not surprising that as of 2012 there were no openly gay men in football, in England’s top 4 divisions.
Graeme Le Saux has now been appointed to the football associations new equality panel. On the Belfast Telegraph’s page Le Saux supports Hitzlsperger’s decision to reveal he is gay, whilst at the same time making it clear that other footballers should not feel pressured into coming out. His cautious message is not surprising given his history, but he isn’t alone in realising how difficult it is for footballers to come out whilst still playing. Hitzlesperger “believes gay male footballers are living in fear of the repercussions they could face if they come out”. Repercussions I discussed in a previous blog post, which were sponsorship deals could be jeopardised and their abilities as a player could be brought into question by fans, coaches and fellow team-mates.
Thomas Hitzlsperger had revealed his sexuality after retiring from Aston Villa, in order to avoid these potential repercussions. A similar story happened with Robbie Rodger who retired from Leeds at the same time as announcing he is gay. On the BBC sport website, Gordon Taylor (chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association) said “We do have players who’ve said that, while they are gay, they don’t feel comfortable enough to come out”.
With these several examples of footballers wanting to wait until they’ve retired before coming out, it seems clear there are still fears within football to be gay. But this discrimination within football has been noticed and in recent years the “Kick It Out” campaign (an anti-discrimination campaign originally set up to tackle racism within football) has began to work on challenging homophobia. This was introduced after Stonewall produced a report calling for football to take action against homophobic abuse.
It appears to be quite apparent that there is this stigma for gay men to participate in football, because there are still these rigid notions of gender within sport, as I have talked about in previous posts. Heteromasculinity seems to still be present; Graeme Le Saux receiving abuse for being believed to be gay suggests this. There is a distinct lack of role models and representation within football, which isn’t helped with the fears surrounding coming out. Role models which could challenge this stigma, making sport a more accepting place for the LGB community.