Gary Lineker saying he knows closeted gay footballers won’t help players who want to come out

Gary Lineker attends the Sun's Who Cares Wins Awards 2021 at The Roundhouse on September 14, 2021.

Gary Lineker’s comments about knowing gay premier league footballers could make it harder for players to come out publicly, activists have warned.

The former footballer and BBC presenter told The Mirror he knows of two professional footballers who are “very close” to coming out – and suggested they should do so during the World Cup to take a stand against Qatar’s anti-gay laws.

“It would be great if one or two of them – came out during the World Cup. It would be amazing,” Gary Lineker said.

However, LGBTQ+ sporting advocates have said Lineker’s comments – and wider speculation about gay footballers – is heaping pressure on players who might already be struggling.

Jon Holmes, founder of Sports Media LGBT+, told PinkNews that Lineker likely means well, but his comments won’t help gay footballers come out.

“We know that for many years the tabloid newspapers in particular have reported on the topic of gay and bisexual male footballers in a way that is largely unhelpful and doesn’t actually lead to that increased visibility in this part of sport,” Holmes says.

‘Invites extra pressure’

“It’s often done in a way that is speculative, invites gossip on social media, and doesn’t deal with the reasons why these players don’t feel comfortable being visible.

“The way the story is presented is just a repeat of everything we’ve seen down the years and it’s never helped anyone come out.”

Instead, speculation about gay footballers “invites extra pressure”, according to Holmes.

“It kind of reduces that whole process that’s an intense part of somebody’s journey, somebody’s life, into something that becomes the subject of internet gossip.”

However, Holmes says he doesn’t want Lineker to end up taking a “step back” because of perceived backlash to his comments.

Gary Lineker presenting at a match for The BBC.

Gary Lineker. (Shaun Botterill/Getty)

“We need to talk about these things in the right context and in a way that is constructive,” Holmes says.

He believes it’s unlikely any premier league footballers will come out anytime soon because of the intense media pressure for them to do so.

Much has been made in recent years about the lack of openly gay footballers at the highest echelons of the sport.

Amal Fashanu, the niece of Justin Fashanu, has said she knows of a number of gay players who are considering coming out.

However, others have criticised the media frenzy for gay footballers to come out, saying the speculation could deter them from opening up about their sexuality.

‘The intention here was good’

Jack Murley, presenter of the BBC’s LGBT Sports podcast, criticised Lineker’s comments in a Twitter thread, saying footballers should only come out when they’re ready to do so – and not to take a stand against Qatar.

“Take a look at social media today, and you can already see the damage this has done,” Murley wrote.

“Hundreds and hundreds of posts, speculating and joking about who these two footballers might be. Who does that help?”

Murley added: “I honestly believe the intention here was good – and that this was a genuine attempt at allyship. But for years, the LGBTQ+ community has been explaining why speculating about people ‘on the verge of coming out’ is massively unhelpful.

“Somehow, that’s still not getting across.”

Lineker responded to Murley’s tweets, writing: “Hi, obviously my intention were honourable, but I’ve read your thread and take on board your concerns. Thanks for sharing.”