The football fraternity needs to rally around gay players

The author is the author and co-host of the Stadio soccer podcast

It was a pivotal week for homosexuality in football. Jake Daniels, a prolific striker for Blackpool FC, became England’s first openly gay male professional footballer in 32 years. While Justin Fashanu, the former player of this ilk, faced hostilities that hastened the decline of his career, Daniels’ announcement was greeted by many prominent voices throughout the game: most notably Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who declared: “I don’t know him but i’m really proud of him. . . I’m very happy for him.”

Elsewhere, it was recalled why gay male gamers have long chosen to remain silent about their sexuality. In France, Idrissa Gueye, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain and the Senegalese national team, refused to wear a jersey with anti-homophobia colors for religious reasons. His position was supported on Twitter by a popular hashtag “We are all Idrissa” and by Macky Sall, the President of Senegal. “His religious beliefs must be respected,” Sall wrote. But while religion’s opposition to sex can be strong, it is also exaggerated. There are many in football – including Klopp himself, a committed Christian – who see no contradiction between their deep religious beliefs and their support of Daniels, who he truly is.

While homosexuality is widely accepted in women’s football, men’s football is far less advanced as being gay means clashing with the concept of traditional masculinity. Although attitudes towards football have changed significantly since Fashanu’s time, the dressing rooms and fan culture in men’s football all too often seem less accepted than the wider society. This clash often has violent consequences. This was recently illustrated in Senegal, where a man was brutally beaten by a crowd chanting homophobic slurs.

Gueye’s stance is hailed as bold by some, but he merely represents the views of many of those who have a powerful financial impact on the world’s most popular game. After all, male homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, the country that owns Gueye’s employer and is hosting this year’s World Cup. It’s also illegal in Abu Dhabi, the country that owns last season’s Premier League champions Manchester City. If this week is to be designed as a duel of courage, then Daniels took an exponentially greater risk than Gueye. Not every corner of the sport will be as supportive as the one Daniels has found in Blackpool.

Idrissa Gueye at a Paris Saint-Germain training session

Male homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, the country that hosts Idrissa Gueye’s employer Paris Saint-Germain and is hosting this year’s World Cup © Aurelian Meunier/PSG/Getty Images

Ultimately, men’s football is about brotherhood: the feeling that you accept and hug your team-mates, no matter where they come from. That’s the brotherhood Daniel’s teammates showed when they welcomed him as a gay man. It’s no different from the brotherhood – that bond beyond friendship – that drove Gueye and his Senegalese team-mates to win their first-ever Africa Cup of Nations this year.

Gueye is clearly a generous person. Earlier this month he organized a $2 million fundraiser for children suffering from cancer and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a virus that is disproportionately affecting gay people. His community service work also shows that he understands the need to support young people who are feeling vulnerable. Should Senegal one day have its own Jake Daniels, an outstanding young male soccer player who is also gay, it is hoped Gueye will show him the same generosity.

When it comes to dealing with gay male players in sports, it’s one thing to object to wearing a rainbow-colored jersey: the jersey ends up being an abstract campaign that you may not feel emotionally connected to. It’s a very different thing to reject a teammate you respect and care about than to reject someone who is reaching out to you anxiously and looking for support. That rejection is certainly the opposite of what the fraternity of men’s football is really about.

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