Gay basketball hero says clubs, not fans, are to blame for homophobia in sport

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Former NBA star John Amaechi has said it is coaches, executives and club owners who are to blame for homophobia in football.

He was responding to PR advisor Max Clifford’s comments earlier this week that “vicious” homophobic fans were the reason why so few gay sportsmen were willing to come out. There are no out gay premiership footballers. The only one to ever come out, Justin Fashanu, was severely bullied and later killed himself.

Amaechi, who came out at the end of his career and is the only basketball player in the history of the NBA to do so, told that he believed the problem was caused by “woeful” leadership in sport and the under-resourcing of initiatives such as Kick It Out.

He said: “The coaches, administrators and owners of our major sports and their governing bodies struggle to handle the idea of women in their board rooms and black people coaching their teams, never mind a gay person on their pitch.

“It is not the comments of unenlightened peers or ignorant fans that sets us back most, it is the actions of coaches, executives and owners who conspire to create hierarchies of leadership that are subtly, but intensely hostile to diversity – a message they send loud and clear, certainly subtly, often subliminally, but always certainly.”

He added that when he came out, only ten per cent of those who commented were hostile, saying that a small number were openly positive and the rest of society “shrugged”.

“Some fans are “vicious homophobes”, others are staunchly bigotry-free and most, I imagine are in the middle waiting to be lead,” he said.

Clifford told the Independent on Sunday last week that while footballers themselves were not homophobic, fans could be “vicious”.

But Amaechi said: “The problem of homophobia and bigotry in general do not lie at the feet of ‘working class’ fans whose minds can’t expand to understand difference, nor with urban (read: black) athletes who can’t get their heads around diversity. It lies with the woeful, 20th-century (and that’s being generous) leadership of sport. Not to mention the fact they under-resource initiatives like Kick It Out and support only the use of 25-year-old science to tackle the issues of bigotry, knowing that won’t really work and they remain safe.”

He was speaking days after Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas announced he was gay. Thomas said he had known since the age of 18 he was gay but said he would never have achieved the success he did if he came out at the time.

Amaechi wrote in a blog entry this week: “Athletes stay closeted while active; or like Gareth and myself, come out at the twilight of their career or later, not because we are cowards, but because had I come out at 14 – you would never have heard of me. I would never have become Britain’s first NBA player, never made the basket that got me into the US basketball Hall of Fame and 2,500 young people per week would not be playing in the centre I built in Manchester.”