Regular readers will know that these pages have been dedicated recently to reporting on the emerging “controversy” about gay footballers. It began with some publicity about The Justin Campaign’s Football v Homphobia Initiative (and other good gay works) and then a comment made by gay basketballer John Amaechi in his blog and to the world press. Amaechi’s position was that coming out was too hard, that it positioned the player as “Joan of Arc”. To Amaechi, coming out is too risky; it’s simply too much to ask.
I have kept my opinion on this pretty much to myself. You guys are smart people. You can make up your own minds.
However… on March 12, 2010 another story broke. “Fury as German ex-football boss says: ‘There’s no place in football for gays’,” reads the headline on the U.K.’s Daily Mail. In the piece, former football manager Rudi Assauer asserts that while there may be a place for gays in other sports, gay footballers should “find something else to do.” But lookie here: Assauer only has our well-being in mind. “That’s because those who out themselves always end up busted by it, ridiculed by their fellow players and by people in the stands. We should spare them these witch-hunts.”
When did this kind of paternalism become acceptable? When did urging queer players to remain closetted “for our own good” start to make sense? You know something has gone horribly, dementedly wrong when out gay athletes like John Amaechi are parroting the sentiments of bigots like Assauer.
So cut it out! For every sad example of the destructive effect of homophobia (i.e. Fashanu’s suicide) there is another story that teaches us about acceptance, diversity and the unifying power of sport. The most notable recent example is that flaming, unapologetic queen Johnny Weir. To him, I raise a glass and say, “Giiiiirl!” What’s that? It’s different because he’s a skater? What about Greg Louganis (Olympic diver), Marc Leduc (Olympic boxer), and Tom Waddell (Olympic decathlete and creator of the Gay Games)? You want your gays butcher? I give you Martina Navratilova and Sheryl Swoopes. And if gays can play rugby (Bravo, Gareth Thomas, for risking the witch-hunt!), surely we can play soccer/football. It is, after all, “the beautiful game”.
So to all the players in every sport that are brave enough to be themselves, keep it up. This Joan of Arc stuff is nonsense. If Assauer and his ilk want to spare us the witch-hunts, they’ll put down their pitchforks and torches instead of asking us to hide behind the castle gates. Come out, come out, wherever you are! I’m pretty sure there’s a kickabout happening at a park near you and I, for one, can’t wait to see how you look in that jersey.