How can a man like Robbie Rogers really be expected to be honest about his sexuality when football continues to demonstrate an intolerance of gay players, fans and any other individual involved in the game?
By Henry Tydeman – @HenryTydeman
Robbie Rogers is a brave man.
The former Leeds United and USA winger, who announced on Friday that he is gay, said that he had been “afraid” to ‘come out’ in the past, “because of fear”.
A fear, no doubt, that he would be subjected to the same type of vicious and hurtful homophobic abuse that Justin Fashanu, the first openly gay English professional footballer, received constantly from supporters at matches, following his decision to publicly reveal his sexuality in 1990.
The fact that only three gay professional football players have seen fit to bring their sexual orientation to the public domain is telling, as is Rogers’ decision to refer to his homosexuality as his “secret” on more than one occasion in his online message.
Gay footballers, it would seem, are, on the whole, very wary of ‘coming out’. Whereas many aspects of the game have moved on, it is less clear that the general attitude towards homosexuality has changed enough.
Gareth Southgate recently said that, nowadays, a gay player “would be accepted” in the dressing room, but he also stressed that “there might be some reaction from crowds”. And he’s probably right; a number of footballers, including Robert Snodgrass and Ross McCormack, both of whom played with Rogers at Leeds, offered the American support on Twitter, following his revelation.
But whether supporters around the country would have accepted it, is another matter entirely.
Brighton and Hove Albion fans are subjected to homophobic chants by opposition supporters at most of the club’s matches. Surely then, all Brighton fans, possibly more than any others, would recognise just how vile, offensive and ultimately illegal, this sort of abuse is?
One might think so anyway. But a recent visit to the club’s online fans’ forum, NorthStandChat, would confirm that even a number of those who are subjected to this kind of treatment fail to recognise just how unacceptable it is.
Last week, Brighton hosted Blackburn Rovers. Colin Kazim-Richards, the Rovers striker (who used to play for Brighton), was seen making homophobic gestures to the home fans on a regular basis during the last fifteen minutes or so of the game. But were all Brighton supporters as outraged and disgusted as they should have been at this?
In short, no, they weren’t.
In fact, it seemed that a number of posters, somewhat remarkably, were keen to defend their former player’s actions. Although many were offended by Kazim-Richards’ behaviour, and saw it as totally deplorable, one posted, “God some of you lot are soft! Oh he poked his fingers at his bum’ Boo hoo. Banter works both ways!”
Another supporter had written, “Can we please just man up a little bit” and “if anybody finds that deeply offensive they need to get out more.”
The problem is highlighted here so very clearly. Yes, “banter” and “manning up” were, and still are, to an extent, important parts of football. But racist abuse is not “banter”, and it would appear that the majority of football fans recognise this nowadays. So why is it more difficult to convince people that homophobic taunts are just as bad?
If some of those on the receiving end of these types of insults cannot see just how outrageous they are, what hope does football have of changing its attitude towards homosexuality?
It is the mind-set had by some of the Brighton forum-users, a mind-set which undoubtedly is shared by other groups of fans across the country, and the world, that is preventing more players to act as Robbie Rogers did this week. The view that a certain type of homophobic abuse is really just “banter” and that no one should worry about it too much.
Something needs to be done. Until fans’ minds are changed, players won’t feel safe enough to be honest with the supporters who idolise them.
Put yourself in Robbie Rogers position – could you be honest about your sexuality? Would you have felt comfortable continuing to play? Give us your thoughts @talkingbaws or comment below.