In England, Gay Soccer Players Are Still in the Closet

Players fear the reaction of fans and media, not teammates, according to a report in The Observer

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Washington Wizards' Jason Collins public revelation last week that he was gay caused waves on the other side of the Atlantic. The Observer reported Sunday that eight professional soccer players had revealed to their colleagues that they were gay, but refused to go public fearing a backlash from fans. According to Clarke Carlisle, chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association, the players told him that they had no fear of the reaction from the dressing room, but rather were wary of the media and fans.

No professional soccer player in Britain has revealed he is gay since Justin Fashanu did so in 1990. Fashanu, who continued to play for four more seasons, later said he wasn't prepared for the backlash and that his career was severely damaged by his revelation, which led to his early retirement and eventual suicide.

Earlier this year, Robbie Rogers, an American playing for Leeds United left the club after announcing in his weblog that he was gay: "For the past 25 years I have been afraid, afraid to show whom I really was because of fear. Fear that judgment and rejection would hold me back from my dreams and aspirations. Fear that my loved ones would be farthest from me if they knew my secret. Fear that my secret would get in the way of my dreams." Rogers left England last week and began training with MLS club, Los Angeles Galaxy.

"The danger is not so much coming out, but what happens next," Chris Basiurski, chair of the Gay Football Supporters' Network, told the Observer. "We have anecdotal evidence that players are out within their clubs and don't have a problem. But we are trying to create an atmosphere for people to come out safely, but at the moment there is a big barrier. The danger is what happens when a player comes out and gets loads of support and attention, but then start playing badly. The worry is that fans will start getting on their backs and they may lose the confidence of their manager and it could be connected to their sexuality."

Meanwhile Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper described the absence of openly gay professional footballers in the U.K. as "outrageous." Two weeks ago MPs tabled a parliamentary debate calling on clubs, supporters and football authorities to eradicate homophobic chanting.

The Observer report noted other positive developments such as Arsenal's solid backing for the Gay Gooners supporters' initiative, and West Ham player Matt Jarvis' recent photo session for the gay magazine, Attitude, only the third player to do so, after David Beckham and Freddie Ljungberg. Still, Jarvis later revealed that following his appearance on the magazine his wife has been repeatedly asked about his sexuality.

American player Robbie Rogers left Leeds United earlier this year after announcing that he was gay. Credit: AP