Fear of declaring gay is amplified in football, says British journalist


Last Wednesday (27), a 21-year-old young Australian midfielder declared himself gay. In a video accompanied by a text on social media, Josh Cavallo, Adelaide United (AUS) athlete, felt safe to talk about his sexuality. Something rare in football, especially with athletes still active.

“It was a journey to get to this point in my life, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision to take over,” he said. “I’ve been struggling with my sexuality for over six years and I’m happy to be able to let it go,” he said at the time.

For British journalist and writer Joh Holmes, 42, founder of Sports Media LGBT+, a London-based group that fights for inclusion in journalism and sports, there are many reasons why stories like Josh’s are scarce. He cites the role of the press in men’s football as one reason.

“I think the media here [na Inglaterra] contributes to that, and players don’t want to be put under scrutiny, under that level of attention,” he says in an interview with sheet.

Holmes also believes in the importance of telling positive stories, such as Josh’s, who has received support from other professional athletes and clubs around the world, to encourage those who want to open up, as well as campaigns to create more welcoming environments in football. and society in general.

Why in 2021 do we still have no other openly gay professional football players besides Josh Cavallo? I think there are many reasons for this. From a media perspective, I think there is intense scrutiny of men’s professional football and that brings a lot of pressure, through our industry, the streets, social media, and it creates an atmosphere of conformism and rigidity. For the player to publicly reveal that he is gay, he is taking a step out of that environment, standing out as someone who is a representative of the LGBT community, just like Josh Cavallo. We haven’t seen this in the UK yet because there are reasons for that. I think the media here contributes to that, and players don’t want to be put under scrutiny, under that level of attention.

We’ve seen an increase in cases of racism against players on social media and how much it affects their mental health. If you come out publicly, you are naturally targeting yourself and that kind of attention can be negative. What we’re trying to do is actually show that there’s a lot of support, just like we saw in Josh’s case. I think a lot of people worry that positivity is there in the beginning, but what will happen in a month or two, when they have a bad match, are they going to take offense for who they are.

Is there still fear about what the fans, other players and the club will think? Fear about coming out isn’t just something in professional football, it’s something anyone in the LGBT community goes through. Unless you come from an environment where you feel fully supported and welcome, when you are young and discovering who you are, if you don’t receive positive messages within your environment, you will always be afraid of the prospect of coming out, whether for one person or for millions of people, as Josh Cavallo did.

The problem in football is that we don’t have any professional gay or bisexual players. [assumido] in the UK and this fear is amplified, it becomes overrated. We created the perception that professional men’s football is the most hostile environment of all, but in my experience and understanding the changing rooms are an inclusive place. There are players who would fully support if a teammate came out of their homosexuality. I think we embark very quickly on narratives of fear and anguish.

In what sense is the media responsible? What really encourages people to come out is to learn from the stories of others who have done the same. We remember a lot here in England the story of Justin Fashanu (first professional football player to come out as a homosexual, in 1990, and who committed suicide eight years later) and for almost 30 years this characterized the experience of coming out in men’s football. But there are other experiences of players coming out after retirement, or in lower divisions, that are extremely positive.

The media is always very quick to want to share stories like Cavallo’s, but those are rare and unpredictable. As the press knows there is interest in these stories, they rush to tell others and that’s when they move into the territory of a story about “a player who is gay in a secret or mysterious way and who is going through trauma and incredible difficulty.”

As we cannot verify the history or name the player because we need to protect him, this is perpetuated. It’s all about website traffic and newspaper sales, and the media has been largely responsible for the way they’ve covered this topic, perpetuating stories of fear and anguish at the expense of positive stories from players who were accepted and felt welcome.

Is the amount of support Josh Cavallo received from players, clubs, institutions a sign that the mindset is really changing? What I think has really changed is this kind of brotherhood in men’s professional football, from other people who are from the LGBT community and who inspired Josh.

Josh mentioned that he knew Justin Fashanu’s story and was concerned, but then read a story that came out last year about player Thomas Beattie, who came out after retirement. Josh wrote that it was the story of Thomas that inspired him and gave him strength. What we’ve learned from this is that there’s a chain reaction of positive stories, about being able to take on who you are in a male environment, on a male team.

What’s really impactful about Josh’s story is that he’s so young, he’s only 21 – I didn’t come out until my mid-30s. It reflects very well on Adelaide United, the Australian league and sport in Australia that someone as young as Josh felt confident to share his story on a global level. That’s an amazing shift in perception so we’re really delighted for it and we have to take lessons for other leagues around the world, for you guys in Brazil, for us here in the UK, what they were able to create to give the Josh has the confidence to do this.

Do you think clubs and the Premier League are providing a safe environment for players to embrace their sexuality without fear, knowing they will have support? I think the reason why men’s football lags behind the rest of society, like music, film, television, where there is a large LGBT community, is that professional football is a kind of hard bubble to penetrate. . Campaigns like Rainbow Laces, which has been in existence for less than a decade, help deliver positive messages about inclusion. It will take longer for this to enter a locker room in order to be inherent in this football culture. It takes a level of understanding and education beyond that that can really make a difference to any individual, as well as a player as young as Josh, who may be hurting.

Over time, this understanding [ajudado pelas campanhas] it has already manifested itself in the reduction in the amount of homophobic language in the locker room, language that was part of the conversation and people didn’t realize the impact it had. There is now an understanding that this language really hurts someone who is struggling with their sexuality. Exists [agora] support from players such as Jordan Henderson [capitão do Liverpool], from experienced and respected athletes, because they know the extent of their responsibilities. Often these players are captains of their clubs, so all these different actions, combined, start to change the bubbles in the locker room into a more positively influenced space, but it takes time.

Is it a matter of educating? Campaigns like Rainbow Laces exist to encourage conversations that never happened. People feel more comfortable talking about it and understand the context of it, that it impacts mental health. Not being able to come out can cause a mental health problem, as can someone who is affected by an addiction to gambling, drinking, or drugs and all those things that are hidden pressures that a professional athlete has to deal with. This idea that on a game day he needs to go out on the field and do his best and shut out all the other pressures inside his head, when you’re a gay athlete who can’t come out, it’s very difficult to do that, because other thoughts they are always in your head and they can manifest in strange ways.

If a team player can assume homosexuality it’s good for the team itself because he’ll be the same good player, just happier, right? I think we have to look at the history of player Collin Martin in the United States. He has publicly stated that after he came out he is much happier and is a much better player. He received homophobic abuse last year during a game and it’s something that, for any gay or bisexual player, there is a possibility that your sexual orientation will be used against you, unfortunately, it happened to him. But we saw through the reaction of the public and the technician the great support he received after this incident and the positive lessons. I think if you talk to Collin today, I’m sure he’ll say he doesn’t regret coming out, because he’s a better football player because of that.

When will we have an openly gay player in the Premier League? It’s a very frequent question. We can’t put time into it, what we hope is that we’re moving in that direction. It’s something so personal, it’s not something that can be measured on a timeline of when it’s going to happen. We don’t know the internal struggle and internal dialogue these players are having with themselves. I think what we can expect and what may have already happened is that these players have already come out to their teams, in the locker room, to their coaches, to people they trust in their environment. We just don’t know it’s already happening. In lower divisions, there are players at the semi-pro level who are accepted, happy and welcome in their locker rooms. We will see a change from the bottom up, just as we saw Thomas Beattie inspiring Joshua Cavallo. At some point in the future, I hope that soon the change will reach a professional level.

Jon Holmes, 42

He is a journalist and writer. He founded Sports Media LGBT+, a London-based group that fights for inclusion in journalism and sports. He is one of Sky Sports’ coordinators of the Rainbow Laces campaign to support the LGBT+ community in the Premier League.


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