In a world of high stakes and gains, undue criticism for sports stars is inevitably a part of their life and inevitably a line is crossed at times. The passion involved in football can evoke fantastic emotions for the fans, but far too often the personal lives of some players is affected in a negative way.
Since Justin Fashanu ‘came out’ as gay 21 years ago, no professional footballer has followed in his footsteps. The documentary made by his niece Amal Fashanu for the BBC showed a multitude of difficulties in football and tackling discrimination. An undeniable talent in his youth, Fashanu’s suicide in 1998 showed how demonised an individual could become based on their sexuality and his death did little to change attitudes in football.
Recent events have seen racism come under the spotlight as an underlying issue in sport, football especially. Homophobia has always claimed second place on the agenda in terms of prejudice to tackle, but progress is being made on the issue as the FA last week signed a charter for all 20 Premier League clubs to help combat homophobia in football.
To suggest any difference in terms of seriousness between racism and homophobia as a form of prejudice is narrow minded. Judging on the basis of skin colour and/or sexuality shows an ignorance that has no place in modern society. No form of discrimination is worthy of more attention than the others and to suggest most sports are any further in stopping homophobia would be wrong. Former Welsh rugby captain Gareth Thomas openly admitted being gay in 2009 and was publicly supported by the Welsh Rugby Union shortly after, in contrast to the treatment of former tennis star Billie Jean King when allegations were made about her private life.
Homophobia still has no place in sport, let alone society. The nature of modern football leaves players extremely exposed to criticism from all sides and even their own fans at times, but their personal life should be of little concern to them. QPR captain Joey Barton claims that in 15 years another openly gay footballer will emerge and 78% of fans in a recent survey suggested hostility would still exist in sport. Another brave player will probably suffer in the meantime if outed as gay, but maybe this is needed for acceptance of homosexuality in sport.