The new Premier League season and the disappointment of no openly gay player
Last year, when it was announced that two Premier League players were ready to come out as gay, I almost died of happiness. The news made me glow. To be honest, I began to think of who it might be. I was convinced this was serious business. After all, the sports world is no longer straight-populated; LGBTQ sportspeople inhabit it as well, from Olympic medalist Gus Kenworthy to English cricketer Steven Davies. So why should the Premier League be different? But with just three days into the 2016/2017 season, no player has come forward yet.
This delay — or lack thereof — can be attributed to football’s enduring legacy of homophobia and the patriarchal climate that dominates the game. Perhaps the players, whoever they are, decided to change their minds for reasons best known to them. In the same news, a third player who was supposed to go public with his sexuality was discouraged when a homophobic message was painted across his car.
Though moving at a glacial pace, homophobic attitudes in football have changed since Justin Fashanu committed suicide after being accused of sexual assault. It’s worth mentioning that, as Britain’s only English footballer to come out, Fashanu suffered homophobic abuse. Bearing that in mind, and despite efforts to fight homophobia in the Premier League and to create a safe, prejudice-free environment for gay players, there is still an insidious unpredictability that hangs in the air. But this shouldn’t discourage gay players from taking that bold step to live their truth.
These days, it is true that some fans aren’t interested in a player’s sexuality, provided he is delivering on the pitch. I am one of those fans. As a faithful supporter of Liverpool FC, my primary concern is that players (whether gay or straight) win games for the club and build a momentum that will make us clinch trophies.
Having a gay player in the Premier League, with all of its competiveness and glamour, will boost its prestige and dismantle rigid concepts about masculinity, the idea that football is a sport set aside for “real men.” What’s more, that football is viewed this way is a clear indication of how society-prescribed masculinity has been weaponised to keep gay players in the closet.
Furthermore, the Premier League has the highest revenue of any football league in the world and with the emergence of gay players, LGBTQ-friendly brands, like Barclays, will come in to form a symbiotic partnership. Football academies are always in the business of recruiting promising talents, some of them too young, their minds malleable. Amongst them are gays and bisexuals, for sure, and they need to see role models. They need to feel that their sexuality shouldn’t be a thing they should be ashamed about.
The season is still fresh and I’m looking forward to be awed, thrilled, and entertained. And if a gay player doesn’t come out anytime soon, there is always next season.