Queer football figures claim ‘intense interest’ in players’ lives could be stopping gay and bisexual stars from coming out

LGBT Pride games sport study

The “sensationalised” media coverage of closeted gay and bisexual footballer players is hampering efforts to make the beautiful game that bit more beautiful, warned LGBT+ fans and allies in an open letter published Monday (September 21).

After two anonymous gay players revealed they are wrestling to come out publicly, a letter was organised by Sports Media LGBTa network group and consultancy that “advocates for inclusion in both our own industry and across sport in general”.

In the letter, the network condemned the media and fans’ “intense interest” in players as one of the reasons why LGBT+ players may struggle to come out.

“As a group of LGBTQ+ people and allies with roles in football, we know there are moments when the game can be unwelcoming for members of our community,” they wrote.

“The culture of the men’s professional set-up can make it a particularly challenging environment for anyone who is gay or bi.

“If we are to help LGBT+ people in our sport who are struggling to arrive at their own sense of Pride, while also avoid fuelling speculation about who is and isn’t gay or bi, then greater transparency and a more constructive approach is required from the games’ critics.”

Football authorities have ‘the capacity to do more’ to help queer players, says LGBT+ sports group. 

The letter acknowledged the campaigns and measures drawn up by football authorities to bring positive representation for gay players, but stressed that they “have the capacity to do more”.

This includes: “Addressing LGBTQ+ mental wellbeing specifically, and the challenges faced by closeted gay and bi male players; and delivering education for all stakeholders around how homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language and behaviour can make people feel unwelcome and unsafe.”

Despite there being a number of players living publicly as queer men both in Britain and beyond – such as Thomas Beattie, as well as players in non-league teams – the group said that the narrative of the lonely closeted player does more harm than good.

Thomas Beattie gay footballer comes out

Thomas Beattie. (Instagram)

“Sensationalised accounts in the media of agony and anguish give the perception that complacency has set in on homophobia in football,” the letter explained.

“The truth is that there has never been a more concerted team effort to tackle prejudice, but its progress is hampered by such accounts and makes gay and bi people across the men’s game feel less safe and less likely to feel they can be honest and open about their identity.”

The letter has been signed by significant LGBT+ and football figures, such as James McNaught, chair of Village Manchester FC, Hugh Torrance, executive director of LEAP Sports Scotland, Phil Steer, manager of London Titans FC, Edward Kandel, co-founder of LGBTQ+ In Sport .

Closeted gay footballer: ‘Living a secret life has damaged my mental health.’

For decades, football governing bodies, as well as clubs, have struggled to reconcile a sport so seeded into British culture with the spectre cast by the treatment of Justin Fashanu —the first top male player to come out as gay, who died by suicide in 1998.

Sports Media LGBT’s letter was penned in response to a pair of Premier League footballers, who both revealed this year that they are gay and are struggling to come out via anonymous statements.

Both said that in part, they remain closeted because of fears of a firestorm reaction from fans, as well as a lack of support from sporting leaders.

In a heart-wrenching letter sent by the Justin Fashanu Foundation to The Sun in September, one of the gay footballers said that the sport has not “moved on” enough to support him.

He also mentioned how his bosses have had a “lip service” approach to the issue.

The letter was the second released through the Justin Fashanu Foundation, a charity started by Fashanu’s niece Amal Fashanu in his honour, after another closeted footballer came forward to tell his story in July.

He urged the football authorities and the fan to accept him and others like him, writing: “I am gay. Even writing that down in this letter is a big step for me.

“But only my family members and a select group of friends are aware of my sexuality. I don’t feel ready to share it with my team or my manager.”

Amal Fashanu suggested that at least five famous footballers are closeted gay men.

She told The Sun: “No one wants to be the first.

“In their minds, these guys are trapped, ashamed. They think society won’t accept it so instead they live their lives in secret.

“It’s sad that this has to happen. But they would be a trailblazer.”