'Don't ask, Don't tell' stance keeps gay players in closet
Published 06/03/2011 | 05:00
E very morning, one of the coaching staff was sent to the treatment room to see who was unable to train due to injury. He would get the details from the physio and return to the manager with the final numbers so he knew what he had to work with. On several occasions he would enquire as to what was wrong with each player, and it would often involve using the words faggot, bender or queer.
At Millwall, certainly in the early part of my time there, we were led to believe that being injured was a sign of weakness. And what better way to get that message across? Imply that injured lads were homosexuals. In their eyes, it was the most offensive remark they could come up with.
There are still no openly gay professional footballers in England, and anecdotes such as that may help explain why. But in a week when Steven Davies became the first cricket player to come out, the question remains as to why no footballer has done likewise. It is unlikely that there are no gay players given the numbers involved, but considering the environment in which they work, I can understand their reluctance to come forward.
Players are there to be mocked and jeered by supporters. Go to any game at any level and you will witness it for yourself. David Beckham, for example, has played in many games while listening to fans chanting how his wife enjoys anal sex. When Beckham walked from the pitch after an England game, one fan shouted how he wished his son would die from cancer. When Fulham played at the Den years ago, Paul Peschisolido was targeted by the home crowd with chants of "you're shit and your wife's a slag". Niall Quinn tells a story in which he was spat on by a fan of his own team after a game. He was carrying his child in his arms at the time.
Many fans go to games with as much intention of offending the opposition players and fans as they do of supporting their own. They see it as part of their role. It's their contribution to the cause. Most can go to a game without saying or doing anything that could possibly offend anyone, but it is not these fans who are of concern here.
There are certainly people out there who would be appalled by the notion of a gay footballer on their team or any other, but it seems the authorities within the game are not yet prepared to meaningfully challenge such a view. Only last year, an English FA video on homophobia was pulled at the last minute amid fears the message was too blunt.
Despite a willingness to support anti-racism initiatives, there were no players prepared to involve themselves in this campaign for equality and respect. Rather than get behind it in any way, PFA chief Gordon Taylor said the issue was not high up on the sport's agenda. He said it would be better to wait for a time "when crowds are a bit more civilised", and believed it unfair to ask any individual to support the message because they would be unfairly targeted by football fans as a result.
Given the reaction when it occurred in other sports, I would imagine any player who came out would receive the public support of his team-mates, his club and their fans. Those who had an issue with it would remain silent. Then, everyone from the PFA to the FA to the Premier League would rush to smugly congratulate themselves on their ability to be so modern, mature and accepting.
When the cameras are off I'm sure the private utterances of disgust and fear would remain, but that doesn't distinguish professional football from other industries. This may explain why publicist Max Clifford said he has counselled high-profile players to refrain from discussing their homosexuality in public.
Unless it was an established one towards the end of his playing days, he said it would spell the end of their careers. Reflecting on some of what I saw during my time in football, I can understand the concern, but it is a rather damning indictment of the game.
Some bookmakers are offering odds on when the first player will come out, but of more relevance would be the public's reaction when they do. It may be influenced by the manner in which their sexuality is revealed, but in a sport which has continued to support players through all manner of issues, the idea that homosexuality is a career-ending revelation seems utter nonsense to me.
Such a decision is solely down to the person involved, but the authorities have a duty to ensure that the platform is there for them to do so. But rather than lead, they seem to be governed by the anticipated reaction of a small mob. Given the reaction in other sports, this is unlikely to be the prevailing view. Anyway, the job of football's leaders is to give direction, not shirk in the face of louts.
Prior to the intervention of Barrack Obama, the policy of the American military with regard to openly gay people serving was known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'. It appears that for the time being, professional football is happy going forward with the very same approach.
Sunday Indo Sport