When I was at school it was always the sporty types who were treated differently. Teachers fawned over them and school mates seemed to idolise those who could play a bit of football or cricket or could swim well… I could do none of these. These would-be sports stars had an aura even at that young age and grew up with a knowledge that they were special. Brains are all well and good but being sporty took you to a different level of acceptance that I could only view from afar. I was a loner adolescent gay boy and the idea of one of these sporting would-be gods might be gay never entered my head. Indeed, the very idea that gay people were anything other than like myself (an introvert desperately trying to be acknowledged) was an alien concept. However, things are changing… and in many ways have changed the way people view the sporting world…
In the States, history has been made by Michael Sam, becoming the first openly gay player on an NFL team, as he joined the St Louis Rams when the new signings were announced. This is the equivalent of the Premier League Young Player of the Year announcing his homosexuality. It’s big news and everyone has an opinion. Negativity from some quarters hasn’t stopped his new team from believing that it’s what he can do on the field that is important, not what he does in his private life. Of course, this doesn’t always end well.
Justin Fashanu was a prime example of this. Twenty four years ago he became the first British Professional Footballer to speak publicly of being homosexual. The reason he came out was that, although his team mates appeared to know his sexuality, he wasn’t out to the general public. Fashanu agreed to an exclusive with The Sun tabloid to come out as gay. They ran the headline as “£1m Football Star: I AM GAY” in October 1990. In the piece Fashanu claimed to have had an affair with a married Conservative MP, whom he first met in a London gay bar. The Sun dragged out the tale with titillating stories of sexual encounters with unnamed MPs, football players and pop stars, which, he claims, were largely untrue. The revelations, nevertheless, earned him a considerable sum of money but he says he was offered even more by others who wanted him to stay in the closet. He admits that he wasn’t fully prepared for the backlash that followed and his career in football suffered “heavy damage”.
Tragically Justin took his own life after allegations of abuse and sexual assault. He had struggled to come to terms with being gay and for being charged of a sex offence which incidentally led to him having his career permanently annulled.
In 1980 former female Tennis champ Martina Natratilova announced she was bi-sexual which in turn did her no favours and she did not receive the sponsors one would expect for someone of her credibility, talent and success. She does however still remain one of the most successful players of all time.
Fast forwarding to the present and there seems to have been a surge of sportsmen/women coming out of the closet.
One of the first was a most respected and former Rugby League player that is Welsh rarebit Gareth Thomas. After his iconic revelation he became first high profile player in the world by ‘Coming Out’ in 2009, while still being at the top of his game.
However, ‘Alfie’ as he is also known, stepped down after announcing his retirement from the world of rubgy in 2011.
He may look a little rough and rugged around the edges yet he is such a pussycat and I would love to get into a scrum with this ‘Daddy’.
Gareth has claimed that whatever your sexuality it shouldn’t hinder your ability to be the best you can in Sport.
One can say that this chap most definitely broke the mould.
Others have followed since, including Tom Daley who recorded a personal video which he uploaded to Youtube: The recording saw the British Olympic medal winning diver open up about his feelings towards the most important person in his life. As it turned out he was dating a man, who Tom said made him very happy and who turned out to be American screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.
Most recently was Football Captain for the Women’s England team Casey Stoney, who decided to tell the world she was a lesbian after seeing Tom Daley’s video revelation.
That video did spur a dramatic change in opinion and the sudden realisation that a sportsman or woman shouldn’t need to lead a separate life in order to be happy and fulfilled, as well as bloody good at the sport they have chosen. Sexuality does not equal ability and as the list of out and proud sports stars grows, we can only see this as a good thing and we raise a loud cheer for those who have seen the light and hope many more do so in the future.
Thomas Hitzlspreger (Footballer), Robbie Rogers (Footballer), Orlando Cruz (Boxer), Ian Matos (Diver), Liam Davis (Footballer), Steven Davies (Cricketer), Darren Young (WWE Wrestler), Jason Collins (Basketball Player), Brian Boitano (Figure Skater)… the list is being added to on a regular basis.
Homosexuality and representing your country (in whatever chosen field of sport) doesn’t seem to be that much of an issue as it once was… times have finally changed and long may it continue.