Cristiano Ronaldo announced yesterday he had become a father to twins. Reports are suggesting that he had used a surrogate mother for the second time. As you could likely expect, the rumour mills were working overtime creating theories about how this makes Ronaldo gay/bisexual. Although not everyone feeds into the rumour, there is definitely a large group that have. If that was ever the case would Ronaldo would likely be advised to stay in the closet. But what could the World’s best footballer coming out do to pave the way for other gay sports stars?
(Some of the many comments about Cristiano Ronaldo’s sexual orientation that came after the birth of his new born twins)
It has to be said societies views on gay people is generally improving for the better. But the view of gay footballers and other sports stars is out of tune with the rest of society. If Ronaldo was gay, like some believe, he is likely to be told to not come out to protect his image. But players are mainly keeping quiet to avoid abuse from the fans to protect their careers, believing coming out would make them an easy target from those in the stands. Ex Manchester United keeper Anders Lindegaard once said “As a footballer I think first and foremost that a homosexual colleague is afraid of the reception he could get from the fans. My impression is that the players would not have a problem accepting a homosexual”.
The main example of this is the late Justin Fashanu. In 1990 the English striker came out as gay. He claimed team mates would make malicious jokes and he was on the receiving end of constant abuse from fans. Newspaper would make up false claims about him. His brother even gave an interview calling him a “social outcast” and “an attention seeker”, years later he has said he regrets saying some these things. Fashanu said his career took a beating after coming out and that no club offered him a full time contract, despite him being fully fit. In 1998, Fashanu committed suicide after being accused of rape he claimed that he was innocent but knew he would never get a fair trial due to his sexual orientation. Fashanu became the victim of his own bravery, he was years ahead of his time and should be applauded for what he did. He has since been inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.
(Justin Fashanu, whilst at Norwich City)
24 years later, Ex German International, Thomas Hitzlsperger came out as gay, a year after he had retired. He is the most high profile player to have come out so far, having made 52 appearances for Germany and playing for clubs like Everton, West Ham United and Aston Villa. He has said he was advised against coming out during his time playing for Wolfsburg, even though he was ready to come out, this shows it’s not always the players who don’t want to come out, but it could be those around them telling them they shouldn’t. Rio Ferdinand said “I was impressed when Thomas Hitzlsperger came out, but it would have been much more powerful if he’d have come out when he was playing. I know it’s easy for us to say but it would have been great”.
(Hitzlsperger during his Wolfsburg days)
Ferdinand is right it would have been great, it would have led the way for more players to come out and be comfortable about themselves whilst continuing to play the sport they love. But he’s also right, it is easy for us to say, we aren’t in their position. We can’t sit on the outside not knowing what it’s like and wanting stars to come out, believing it’s as easy as releasing a statement to the press or coming out in a newspaper interview. It’s much more difficult.
Ferdinand also said “Maybe if he’d come out sooner he could have got another 15-20 percent out of his career. If he didn’t have that stress and pressure of hiding and feeling apprehensive about showing his true feelings , you never know, he might have had 100 caps for Germany”.
(Former Manchester United player Rio Ferdinand)
These men might believe their careers are at stake even in 2017. After all, there has been no path that has been set out for a gay footballer to succeed. There are several reasons why footballers may not want to come out. The obvious reason would be the abuse from the stands, something which would affect a players career for the rest of their lives. Then there’s perhaps the rejection of a ‘macho’ locker room. Perhaps it’s because they may lose sponsorship deals, although this seems unlikely as society is much more accepting, but inevitably there would be bigots calling for the cancellation of various deals. If anything it is the other way round where people have lost their sponsorship deals, for speaking out of turn against LGBT rights, a certain Filipino boxer comes to mind. But nonetheless a player may feel it could hurt their cash flow. Or perhaps a player would rather be known as a footballer and for their achievements rather than being labeled as ‘the gay footballer’.
There are currently no footballers in the Premier League who have come out. But statistics would suggest that there are definitely homosexuals amongst the 20 teams in England’s premium league. Greg Clarke, the Football Association chairman, has spoken to gay footballers and suggested the idea of a group of players coming out together. He has said that he “wouldn’t recommend” an individual coming out, due to the risk of abuse, but he believes if several players shared the spotlight it would serve as a better alternative.
PR mogul, Max Clifford once said this in 2009 “To my knowledge there is only one top-flight professional gay footballer who came out – Justin Fashanu. He ended up committing suicide. I have been advising a top premiership star who is bisexual. If it came out that he had gay tendencies, his career would be over in two minutes. Should it be? No, but if you go on the terraces and hear the way fans are, and also, that kind of general attitude that goes with football, it’s almost like going back to the dark ages”.
It is hardly convincing either that gay footballers will be treated normally, after straight footballers have been victims of homophobic abuse themselves. Notably Graeme Le Saux, was picked on for his antique collecting and his university background. He was abused by the fans but also opposing players such as Robbie Fowler and Robbie Savage. Le Saux, has since admitted he wanted to quit football due to the abuse he received. Le Saux is married with two children. In 2006, Cristiano Ronaldo was labeled a “nancy boy” by The Sun newspaper. Former Liverpool player Djibril Cisse, was scared to kiss a team mate in fear that fans would abuse him for being gay. Never bothered the always passionate Gary Neville though. In 2008, Sol Campbell received homophobic abuse from Tottenham Hotspur fans while playing for Portsmouth, he is also married. If known heterosexual players receive this level of homophobic abuse, it is no wonder that gay footballers are keeping their personal lives a secret.
(Le Saux and Robbie Fowler)
If players were looking to their manager for advice, well not all would help. In 2002, Ex-Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari is on record as stating he would have thrown out of the team a player whom he found to be gay, he has since denied he is homophobic. When Brian Clough discovered that Fashanu was gay he responded by banning him from training with the team.
It is sad that players feel like they can’t come forward as gay in 2017, due to the reception of the public. Feeling like hiding their true self and feelings are a better option than revealing the truth, due to the backlash that could come.
In a 2009 survey, most fans said they would like to see homophobia taken out of football, that the FA were not doing enough to tackle the issue and that they would be comfortable to see a player on their team come out of the closet. It’s a positive sign and we have definitely seen a swing in the right direction, society has changed and football is a part of that, but there has not been enough to convince professional footballers to come out yet. Maybe we are one high profile footballer coming out away from a revolutionary change in football.