The tide is turning, get involved.
Recipe for a revolution:
1 lacrosse captain
1 head tennis coach
1 race car driver
1 volleyball coach
1 division one college soccer player
1 university swimmer
1 university tennis captain
1 high-level NBA executive
1 former college basketball player
1 ESPN radio host*
* Ben Chadwick, Colin Joyner, Jeffrey Wammes, Mike Verschuur, Nick Clark, Brandon Stoneham, Kevin Rohle, Seth Pamperin, Rick Welts, Will Sheridan, and Jared Max
In the 30 days before the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, 11 high-level sports figures publicly came out as gay in the media. Crack that window open just a smidge more, and at least another three people make the list, including the now-famous Swedish footballer Anton Hysén, who came out in mid-March to the sports magazine Offside. “Where the hell is everyone else?” he asked.
By “everyone else”, Hysén meant the other out pro players, and the lamentable fact is that when it comes to this sport – this beautiful, democratic, accessible game – only two players at the professional level have dared to come out: Hysén himself, and the late Justin Fashanu.
Justin Fashanu was a phenomenon. A graceful and deadly forward, Fashanu hit a career apex in 1980 when he scored a spectacular goal against Liverpool FC, a strike that would win him the BBC Goal of the Season. The following year, he became the first black player ever to earn £1m. In 1990, Justin Fashanu came out to the press, and eight years later, he hung himself in a garage in Shoreditch, London. Eleven more years would pass before Hysén spoke to Offside.
Part of the problem is this worn and obnoxious refrain, trotted out annually in various media: For a professional footballer, to come out would be career suicide. Variations on the theme include the idea that gay players should stay closeted “for their own good”, and – my favourite – that, actually, there are no gay professional footballers.
This is why it’s absolutely vital that when higher-ups in the football world contribute to the atmosphere of homophobia, they are held accountable. The governing bodies (I’m talking to you, FIFA and UEFA) are obligated to respond. Why? Because these same organizations are using inclusivity policies to curry public favour.
In 2008, the UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations) launched the Respect campaign, which “dovetails with programmes aimed at combating violence, racism, xenophobia and homophobia, as well as at nurturing fan support, intercultural dialogue, the environment and humanitarian relief.”
In mid-February 2011, the same organization officially endorsed The Justin Campaign (www.thejustincampaign.com), a group dedicated to ending homophobia in football. Yet, at right around the same time, in cooperation with FIFA, the UEFA confirmed Vlatko Markovic for a fourth term as President of the Croatian Football Federation.
If the name Vlatko Markovic is familiar, it’s because he made quite an impression in the media in November 2010 when he remarked, "As long as I'm president [of the Croatian Football Federation] there will be no gay players. Thank goodness only healthy people play football."
As a key decision-maker and ambassador for the sport, he should have been unceremoniously shown the door. Instead, he got a fourth term.
So here’s the rest of that recipe: us.
In a Change.org petition launched on the 2011 International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, signatories call on the UEFA to demand Markovic’s resignation. The petition goal is 25,000 signatures, a minute fraction of the players and fans who love this game.
Please consider adding your name. You’d be in good company. In the past several weeks, the following sports figures have spoken out against homophobia and transphobia:
- The San Francisco Giants have announced they will produce an “It Gets Better” video to support LGBT youth.
- The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) created the “Think B4 You Speak” campaign with Phoenix Suns players Grant Hill and Jared Dudley, which aired during the Miami-Chicago NBA game last week.
- Straight wrestler and advocate Hudson Taylor continues his Athlete Ally mission, which encourages “all individuals involved in sports to respect every member of their communities, regardless of perceived or actual sexual-orientation or gender identity or expression, and to lead others in doing the same.”
- Hall of Famer Charles Barkley went on record saying that skill – not sexuality – was what he looked for in a teammate.
- Front Runners New York (FRNY) announced that the “It Gets Better Project” would be the beneficiary of the club’s 30th annual Lesbian and Gay Pride Run.
- Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Donte Stallworth and teammate Brendan Ayanbajedo tweeted their support for gay equality.
- Gay Games ambassadors Esera Tuaolo, Greg Louganis, and Billy Bean participated in the NoH8 campaign, a silent photographic protest against the ban on same-sex marriage.
- Straight rugby star Ben Cohen launched the StandUp Foundation, an anti-bullying organization with a focus on the LGBT community.
This tide is turning. Add your name to IBWM's here.