Coming Out In The Worlds Game.

Published: Feb 10, 2014 13:43pm EST
By Jason Bardwell, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Feb 10, 2014 @ 03:31pm EST

 

The recent news making headlines in America, so far as sports go, is the coming out of SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam. My focus though is my own sport of choice, soccer. I wondered what sort of strides were being made throughout the world for the worlds game. Certainly the job is made much more difficult with certain countries, like Russia, having anti gay laws but recently US player Robbie Rodgers came out as gay and was followed by the German ex Aston Villa player Thomas Hitzlsperger and, most recently, England’s Casey Stoney, the England women defender with over 100 caps under her belt. 

So what steps are the authorities taking in order to make the climate better for players to feel they can come out, if they want, while still playing. One Saturday in Manchester England, before the start of this current season, a conference was co-held by two groups FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) and ’football v Homophobia’. It included fans from all around Europe and will focus on homophobia in the game.

I was encouraged that this might just be a serious attempt to address the issue because it is taking place in England, at the home city of two of the biggest teams in the Premier League on a day when eyes all across the world will be focused on England. The FA is celebrating it’s 150th anniversary, the Football League kicked off for the 125th time and of course the first Premier League games of a new and exciting season have been taking place. 

The issue is not a new one, although it has been in the background and the most famous examples of this are of course the Justin Fashanu tragedy but also the Graeme LeSaux incidents. Taking the latter one first Graeme Le Saux was always the subject of homosexual chants and rumors, despite being married with two children.

Groups like Stonewall and the Justin Campaign continue to bring attention to the problem and want the sport to take more decisive action on homophobic abuse, much the same way as sanctions are issued over racist chants and actions by crowds and players alike. The Gay Football Supporters Network was formed in 1989 and promotes the support and participation of gay men and women in football, but it continues to be an issue that takes a backseat to racism as it isn’t even currently in the same car, despite already claiming a life. That is the tragic story of Justin Fashanu. 

Justin Fashanu moved to Nottingham Forest where he played for only one season before being loaned out and then eventually moved on to rivals, Notts County. Fashanu sustained a knee injury which didn’t help and in the last half of the 1980's would move from County to Brighton, LA, Edmonton, Manchester City and West Ham as he desperately tried to regain his form. 

From the start of his career in 1978 at Norwich City until retiring in 1997, he would pull on the shirts of twenty two different sides, including teams in Canada. In his career he moved back to the USA and Ellicott City, Maryland. There he would coach the second division side, Maryland Mania. 

In March of 1998 he was accused of sexual assault.  Fashanu was questioned and released before the media played their final part in the Fashanu saga. It was reported that the police had later arrived with a warrant to arrest him. However this was untrue as Fashanu had already left the country and headed back to England.

The Morning of May 3rd that year Fashanus body was found hanged in a lock up garage. He had left a suicide note which read that he had already been presumed guilty and did not want to give any more embarrassment to friends and family. Four months later and inquest established there had been no arrest warrant and in fact due to a lack of evidence the case was no longer being pursued.

Almost sixteen years on and the climate is changing, with the FA even having help available to players thinking of coming out, but we are not quite there yet. The more sports stars, particularly in top flight soccer, will certainly help to get that pendulum moving to such a direction that these stars coming out will no longer be big news stories. 


 

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Jason Bardwell
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