NBA star John Amaechi: Football will always be ‘toxic’ towards gay players with Sepp Blatter in charge

PinkNews logo on a pink background surrounded by illustrated line drawings of a rainbow, pride flag, unicorn and more.

Retired basketball star John Amaechi has said that football will always remain “toxic” in its attitude towards gay players as long as Sepp Blatter remains president of FIFA – football’s world governing body.

The ex-NBA player made the comments whilst praising former Aston Villa, Everton, West Ham midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, over yesterday’s decision to come out as gay to a German newspaper.

On Thursday, Thomas Hitzlsperger told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “We still have a long way to go because we fear a reaction and we don’t know what will happen,” he added: “I can’t imagine playing football and doing this at the same time.”

“I think it is a good thing Hitzlsperger has done, he is held in positive regard as a role model,” Amaechi told The Mirror. “The timing is normal. If you work in an environment which you think is toxic to your health if you tell certain truths, then people will only ever be authentic when they leave.

“The truth is the people who run football are the ones creating this environment. The fans follow the implicit lack of breadth when it comes to issues of difference from the top.”

Referring to FIFA’s current president, Amaechi added: “Blatter couldn’t have a job anywhere else. In an equivalent corporate environment he would be out in a day. Neanderthals seem to be only able to hang on to power in sport.”

Sepp Blatter, 77, seen by many LGBT advocates as an obstacle when it comes to challenging homophobia in football, was forced to apologise in 2010 for saying that gay football fans should avoid having sex in Qatar – in light of the country’s draconian anti-gay laws.

Qatar hosts the World Cup in 2022.

Earlier this week, Michael Johnson resigned as an equality advisor to England’s Football Association, following fresh scrutiny of homophobic comments he made back in 2012. 

John Amaechi came out as gay three years after retiring as a professional NBA player in 2007.

Commenting on the decision of gay NBA player Jason Collins to come out publicly last April, Amaechi said at the time that British football still had a long way to go in accepting gay players.