(Blogmensgo, gay blog of October 27, 2015) Two football players of the British Premier League are said to come out of the closet soon, according to a Daily Mirror article of October 24, 2015.[Update of October 20, 2016: Update at the end of the article – with the controversial declarations by pessimist Greg Clarke (President of the English Football Association) and the very gay-friendly Chris Sutton (former striker of the national team).]
[Update of January 10, 2017: Update at the end of the article – Greg Clarke makes an about-face and now recommends a massive (or at least a collective) coming-out.]
[Update of June 7, 2017: French player Antoine Griezmann understands why football players choose not to come out of the closet.]
[Update of August 19, 2017: British professional football (soccer) referee Ryan Atkin comes out of the closet and criticizes homophobia in football.]
Who are the two gay football players?
The Daily Mirror does not give any information as to the identity of these two players. All we know from the article is that “the two players – of whom one is an international player in the English national team – have told their families and friends, and they have the support of their respective clubs and the English Football Federation.”
A third “well-known” professional football player in the Premier League does not want to come out publicly. He had revealed his homosexuality to his friends, according to the British newspaper. After that, he found homophobic slurs on his car and is therefore afraid to come out to the big public.
When are they planning to come out?
According to the Daily Mirror, the two high-ranking footballers are planning to reveal their homosexuality to the public “before the beginning of the next season” – which means either before or during the summer of 2016.
The European Football (or Soccer) Championships of 2016 will be held in France from June 10 to July 10, 2016. Will these public statements happen before, during or after the Championships and the media coverage typically associated with such events?
It’s a first… or almost anyway
There was only one high-ranking football player of the British football league to come out publicly during his career: Justin Fashanu in 1990. After suffering from many homophobic insults and defamations, he committed suicide in 1998.
Another well-known footballer, American midfielder Robbie Rogers came out as he was retiring from the sport in 2013. Later, he went back to professional football and has since been the first and only gay player in the American league MLS.
Similarly, German player Thomas Hitzlsperger waited until after his retirement before he came out as gay in the beginning of 2014.
However, if a player in the English national football team comes out now during his career, this will be a first in the history of top-tier football.
Why come out of the closet?
Quoting several sources, the Daily Mirror confirms that gays are no longer stigmatized, the public opinion is generally more tolerant now and gay football stars might just become very interesting in terms of PR and advertising value.
Guessing who will be next…
Some British tabloid magazines are talking about at least eight gay footballers playing in the Premier League – without giving any names of course.
French webzine Foot365.fr quotes Theo Walcott, a 26 years old center forward for Arsenal and the English national team, because some photos show him “a bit too friendly” and close to other men.
Speaking of Arsenal: There are some other candidates, such as French player Olivier Giroud. We do not know whether he is gay or just very gay-friendly but he was on the front page of the famous French gay magazine Têtu (which is no longer published now) a while back. Actually, the Arsenal club magazine features an article on him this month.
Another member of Arsenal, trainer Arsène Wenger, is a symbol for elegance and glamor. Gay or not – in any case, he represents all positive values of sport, beauty and intelligence.
Some are also talking about Turkish-German player Mesut Özil – but who knows anyway.
These are interesting times. Let’s see who comes out first and who will follow next…
President of the Football Association advises gay Premier League footballers not to come out of the closet
In an interview on October 17, 2016 the president of the English Football Association, Greg Clarke, declared that Premier League players might risk “severe insults” by coming out and that he personally feels ashamed that “they do not feel safe enough to come out.”
He also said he did not know the identity of the two football players who announced their coming out, nor the third one at whose car homophobic tags were attached.
Chris Sutton thinks that the time for such coming-outs has come
Former striker and currently BBC sports commentator Chris Sutton does not agree with Greg Clarke's opinion.
In a forum, Sutton said that we may not content ourselves with doing nothing just because a small minority does not want to accept gay football players.
In addition, he thinks that both team members and officials would support gay players.
I’m convinced that once the first gay footballer comes out, others will follow. It will be the best thing that happens to the homophobia debate.
Chris Sutton, former international football (soccer) player
He thinks that the fans may have a different reaction in the beginning – but why would it not work eventually in a football stadium if it works fine in schools and at the work place.
After his coming-out, Tom Daley did not suffer from much in the end, after some initial bad reactions.
President of the English Football Association calls for a collective coming-out in order to avoid stigmatization
Greg Clarke, the president of the English Football Association, now changed his mind completely (see below). In a Times interview published on January 9, 2017 (access with subscription or for a fee), Clarke confirms that in order to avoid big media hype and stigmatization, it would be best for the gay football professionals to come out of the closet together – in a collective or even massive coming-out.
I put the message out there that if a number of top-level pros want to come out, why don’t we synchronise it?
Greg Clarke, Präsident des englischen Fußball-Verbands
After meeting with 15 gay athletes (including footballers) over the course of four weeks, Clarke seemingly changed his mind on this subject. He suggests to the official British football organizations to work together and allow all gay players who want to come out of the closet to be able to do that at the beginning of the next season.
According to Greg Clarke the professional footballers are ready to support their gay team mates but doubts that the opposing-team players would be ready to do so. In any case, it should be each gay player's free decision to come out or not.
In other words: The British football (soccer) organizations are willing and ready to support the coming-out of their professional players. A collective coming-out is expected to make the public reaction easier to bear for the individual players.
Antoine Griezmann says he would come out of the closet if he were gay
Would you come out of the closet if you were gay? “Yes, I think so,” said Antoine Griezmann in an Interview published on June 6, 2017 by the Spanish newspaper El País. However, the striker of the French national team and the Spanish club Atlético Madrid does admit that this may well be easier said than done.
Griezmann knows that football is full of rough and tough people. If gay footballers decide not to come out, this may well be for fear what people in the football domain might say. There is a lot of bad folks in this environment and gays are likely to fear insults and attacks in the stadium..
The 26-year-old striker would have no problem with openly gay players in professional football. On the other hand, he does not clearly encourage nor discourage gay players from coming out.
Griezmann's girlfriend Erika Choperena is a fashion blogger, and he has always been focused on his good looks and trendy outfits – a real fashion victim so to speak. 🙂
Ryan Atkin, the first openly gay referee in professional football
On August 10, 2017, Ryan Atkin (aged 32) revealed his homosexuality in an interview on Sky Sports. This makes him the first referee in British professional football (soccer) to come out of the closet during his active career.
In the interview below, Ryan Atkin talks to Lorraine Kelly on ITV:
Atkin’s announcement comes at a time when gay men on the field are starting to be more and more accepted. As presented above in this article, official British football organisations and well-known football personalities have spoken out for gay players and even encouraged them to be more open about it. The Rainbow Laces campaign by the Stonewall association has made the public more aware of the issue for a number of years. Even professional outfitters and sponsors such as Nike and Adidas have been contributing to a more accepting environment.
I hope that my action, however small, will help give others in a similar situation the confidence to be themselves.
Ryan Atkin sees himself not as a gay referee but as a referee in the first place – one who happens to be gay.
He has only now come out publicly although he has been a member of IGLFA (International Gay & Lesbian Football Association) for a number of years. The few colleagues who already knew had reacted very posititively. Atkin only come out to his own mother in 2014, and he actually only understood at the age of 21 that he was gay.
In the future, he wants to be more of an activist fighting for openness, diversity and inclusion in football, as much as he can do this in his role and professional environment. He strongly believes that people can do a better job and are happier when they can openly be who they are.
Homophobia is still a problem, but things are improving all the time. You can change the game and culture when you change your mind – and those who do need education generally change their ways once they’ve been made aware that their behaviour is unacceptable in society.
All official committees, organizations and institutions of British professional football welcomed and encouraged Atkin's coming out.
There was “applause” from all sides on Ryan Atkin’s coming-out, and many people agree that the time is now ripe for some players in the higher leagues to come out publicly.
Ryan Atkin is one of the few professionals to have come out during their career. In 2007, Welsh rugby referee Nigel Owens came out, and in 2014 Andalusian football referee Jesús Tomillero, albeit with negative consequences: Owens had to bear numerous insults on the field and outside, and Tomillero preferred to take a career break because he could not take the public homophobic attacks any longer.
Atkin has not had to accept any homophobic attacks yet although he is well aware of the insults against his colleagues. He points out that on the field, referees have to penalize any homophobic insults according to the official Fifa statutes.
Bravo Ryan Atkin – but the hardest times may well be to come still. So hang in there, dude…