December 8, 2013

Tom Daley Coming Out Still Makes History Because of The Player He Is

Leading the way: Daley came out earlier this week
Leading the way: Daley came out earlier this week
Sandy Young Photography
The first high-profile gay ­footballer will become an icon of our times, writes Stan Collymore in the Sunday People.
In the same way that players no longer need to hold deep-rooted fears over racism and mental health issues, homophobia now needs to be conquered.
Tom Daley’s decision to announce he is in a relationship with a man is one I am sure he will not regret – and I just hope it opens the door for a footballer to do the same thing.
Frankly, I would be staggered if there are not any current gay players in this country.
Whoever is brave enough to step forward first will not only have the potential to earn millions of pounds, but, more importantly, they will begin smashing down walls of discrimination – in all walks of life.
It will encourage other homosexual players to come out, while gay ­supporters will also feel much more ­comfortable in the football environment. The benefits will then seep into ­society as a whole.
We just need someone to step ­forward. So the big question is, why are no gay footballers coming out?
A main reason must be the fear of abuse from the terraces. Daley has shown courage by ­announcing details of his private life in a YouTube video, but repercussions would be greater for a footballer.
While Daley has to dive in front of hundreds of people who will politely clap his skills, a footballer would be confronted by tens of thousands of working-class, middle-aged men. The taunts from opposing fans could be vicious, as it is fair to say that some will not be particularly well educated over gay rights. We would have to hope that our stewards deal with the ignorant souls.
I can understand that fear factor for any gay player and why it may be ­holding them back– but I do not think there can be a serious concern about how team-mates would react in the modern game.
Robbie Rogers
Rare case: USA international Robbie Rogers has already come out
Back when I was playing, there would have been slurs if a player had come out as gay.
But the mental process has moved on from the days of, ‘Don’t bend over in the showers, lads’. These days a ­changing room full of lads in their teens and twenties should have no problem with ­homosexuality. They have been brought up in a time when gay ­marriage is respected and gay ­celebrities are commonplace.
Yet as recently as the ’90s I think my colleagues may well have made homophobic remarks as a way of breaking the ice if a team-mate had announced they were gay. It could well have made for an ­awkward scenario.
I remember when I began dealing publicly with mental health issues in 1997, a newspaper ran a comment ­telling Aston Villa fans it was a disgrace that I could earn so much money and claim I was suffering depression.
The piece basically urged people to drive me out of the club. I had no right of reply, no Twitter to put my opinion across in those days, so I just had to cope with it.
If a gay player had come out then, I can only imagine the type of torment they may have suffered. We would have been looking at headlines along the lines of ‘Elton takes David up the Aisle’.
Now, in 2013, if you are suffering from depression it is possible to blog or tweet and give a fair account of what is going on in your life. The same can be said with racism – people unite to fight it because we all have a better chance of understanding the issue.
I believe a gay player today would be treated far more sympathetically than they once would have been.
If you are a gay player, I urge you to seriously think about the boundaries you are capable of breaking down.
Yes, you will face some personal ­torment, but you will also become a hero. There are people in the world, without a voice, crying out for a breakthrough moment like this.

  • Stan Collymore
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