Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Footballers' Drives: The World's Most Popular Sport, as a Resilient Repository for Homophobia

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Footballers' Drives: The World's Most Popular Sport, as a Resilient Repository for Homophobia

Article excerpt

To understand soccer--at least in its native English form--and its highly charged, no-homo homoerotics, you need imagine a scenario so absurd as to be completely laughable.

One fit, young, straight soccer player is about to take a free kick. Another fit, young, straight player on the opposing team tries to distract him. He does this by bending over, pointing to his large, not entirely uninviting arse--and pulling his cheeks apart repeatedly. The first footballer--whose wife and kids are in the stands--refuses to take the free kick and is booked for delay of play. The lad bending over and pulling his cheeks apart is not. Later, the first footballer thumps the second footballer.

This actually happened in a nationally televised match between Liverpool and Chelsea in 1999--and hardly anyone batted an eye. The free kicker was Graeme Le Saux, and the lad offering him his arse was Robbie Fowler. Le Saux was generally considered gay in the largely working-class world of soccer because (a) he was middle-class and read books, and (b) he responded to the gay taunts--though, according to the logic of footie banter, not responding would also have proved he was gay.

In the 15 years since then the world has changed, but the no-homo homoerotics of the "beautiful game" haven't. A few players, such as the German-born Thomas Hitzlsperger and the American Robbie Rogers, have come out after retiring from the English game (Rogers is playing now professionally in the United States), and lower league semi-pro Liam Davis, 23, also recently came out. But despite feverish tabloid and Twitter gossip, an out player in today's English professional Premier League still seems less likely than a unicorn in cleats.

Meanwhile the brother of Justin Fashanu, Britain's first and only out gay professional footballer who sadly hanged himself in 1998, eight years after declaring his sexual orientation, is still denying that Fashanu was actually gay.

David Beckham's rise to global fame symbolizes how much attitudes toward masculinity have changed in the wider world--and underlines football's gay problem. It's precisely because of soccer's reputation for homophobia that Beckham became so famous for wearing sarongs and nail polish. He's a footballer?!

Although attitudes amongst today's players have definitely changed, with 70% of premiership players telling a recent survey that they would have no issue if a teammate came out, soccer isn't so much about the players as it is about the people in the stands and watching with their mates in the pub. …

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