Is Football Truly Becoming The Beautiful Game At Last?

Lewis Shepherd

Lewis Shepherd is a freelance journalist who has covered a wide range of subjects in his work such as: film, music, television, travel, health, relationships, LGBT affairs and student news. He currently writes for a number of websites including the Huffington Post.

The beautiful game took another step out of the middle ages this week when American international and former Leeds United footballer, Robbie Rogers, came out of the otherwise bolted football closet.

The former midfielder made the announcement that he was gay through his own personal website after he tweeted “just getting some sh*t off my chest” with a link to the web post. In the post he went on to discuss how he’d had fears about coming out as he didn’t want the fact he was gay getting in the way of his dreams, which he went on to discuss: ‘Dreams of going to a World Cup, dreams of The Olympics, dreams of making my family proud. What would life be without these dreams? Could I live a life without them?’

By coming out Rogers has become the most high profile football star to come out since Justin Fashanu did back in 1990, and makes him the second out footballer playing professional football next to Anton Hysen.

However, being one of only two openly gay professional footballers in the world was short lived as Robbie also announced his retirement from football, stating: ‘Now is my time to step away. It’s time to discover myself away from football.’

This action however makes the move a little counter productive. By coming out Rogers was making one of the biggest leaps in terms of professional football, which could be compared to the move Gareth Thomas made when he came out in 2009, and for sport as a whole. But by announcing his retirement it’s prolonging the myth that if you’re a footballer then you can’t be gay, as Rogers is now an ex-footballer.

Maybe the terrible tale of Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990 and faced a barrage of negative publicity before committing suicide in 1998, still sends fear through the minds of gay footballers even today, which would explain why a footballer coming out is a very rare occurrence. Although if Rogers had stayed in the game, maybe he could have debunked the myth and taken an even bigger step for gay footballers than he already has. There was even discussions on Twitter commenting on how Rogers had quit football and then come out, with journalist Charlie Beckett saying: ‘Brilliant for coming out, shame he couldn’t stay in the game.’

But despite this negative aspect to the news of Robbie Rogers coming out, the former player has been bombarded with positive responses via Twitter from fellow footballers and others from around the world, which proves that the world of sport is changing and has changed significantly since Fashanu came out all those years ago.

The news about Rogers coming out isn’t just a big move for football, but a big move for sport itself, which has seen a number of considerable movements towards equality recently. Brian Ellner from gay rights group Athletes Ally, which campaigns against homophobia and transphobia in sport told Reuters: ‘We’re at a tipping point.’

Recently the world of sport has seen Orlando Cruz come out, making him the first professional gay fighter, we’ve seen over 100 professional hockey placers say they’d support an openly gay team mate and footballers Gareth Southgate and Matt Jarvis have both mentioned how football is ready for openly gay players.

Maybe it isn’t the players holding total acceptance back as they all share a love of sport regardless of sexuality, maybe it’s not even the fans who get criticised heavily for not allowing players to come out, surely they just want their team to win. It looks as though footballers, their team mates and their fans are ready to accept gay players in football and other sports for that matter but why aren’t gay footballers, hockey players and gay athletes in general coming out? For football maybe it is the harrowing story of Fashanu, but the more likely reason is because of the sponsorship deals and the PR surrounding them.

If gay footballers are seen to make less money from sponsors or not get sponsors at all, then surely their PR man isn’t going to want them to come out for fear of making less money, even Max Clifford has spoken about how he has advised footballers to stay in the closet.

From what’s happening around the world at the moment maybe we are at a tipping point, after all players from other sports are starting to come out and straight players are defending their gay counterparts and so are the fans. Robbie Rogers may have come out and retired but from the positive reaction he’s received, maybe this action will open the door for other gay footballers to come out and finally break down homophobia in sport.