Last year, the Football Association chairman Greg Clarke said that “wouldn’t recommend” a gay footballer coming out, which earned him a lot of criticism from former players and the LGBT community.
Now in 2017, he spoke with The Times about his strategy to help gay footballers come out. The concerns he talked about last year primarily focused on the fact that he believed a lone player coming out would suffer abuse, but it seems he believes that several players sharing the spotlight would be the solution to this.
He said: ““I put the message out there that if a number of top-level pros want to come out, why don’t we synchronise it? So one person doesn’t have to come out on their own.”
“The Premier League, the Football League and the FA could do it at the start of the season. At the start of the season everybody thinks it is their season, the crowds are happy, the sun is shining. I was asked [recently] if football is ready for top-level pros to come out and I said I’m not sure we were. There was a survey which said people would support gay people in their own team, yes, but I’m worried about what they said about gay people in the other team, not that they would do bad things, but I said we should prepare well.”
“I’ve been asking the gay community: ‘How can we provide more support and orchestrate it so that people get the right level of support if people want to be open about their sexuality?’. I’ve met 15 gay sports people in the last four weeks to ask their views, including footballers.”
“It is very difficult to get to a representative set of gay, top-level footballers because some of them are happy with their sexuality and just don’t want anyone to know. I don’t want to be part of a process that says: ‘You’ve got to come out.’ That’s not right. People are cautious. It’s a one-way street. Once you’re out of the closet, you’re out.”
While he is absolutely correct in that we should not force anyone to come out who is perfectly comfortable with no one knowing, this strategy of “sharing the spotlight” could be a successful one, as of course a player coming out on their own is a very scary prospect. With any luck, his negotiations will be successful. The last out player who was out while he was still actively playing football was Justin Fashanu, who committed suicide in 1998.
Players such as Robbie Rogers and Thomas Hitzlsperger have come out, but only after they retired from playing English football.