More than 25 sports figures have publicly come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender since the beginning of 2011. “Where the hell is everyone else?,” asked Anton Hysén, the now-famous Swedish footballer (“soccer player”) who came out in mid-March to the sports magazine Offside.
By “everyone else,” Hysén meant the other out pro players, and the lamentable fact is that when it comes to football – this beautiful, democratic, accessible game – only two players at the professional level have ever dared to say, “I’m gay.” Hysén, and the late Justin Fashanu.
2011 has been a watershed year for LGBT rights and athletics. Add the efforts of straight allies like wrestler Hudson Taylor, rugger Bed Cohen, and basketballer Charles Barkley to the many LGBT athletes standing up and saying “Me too,” and it’s pretty easy to see we’ve got a movement.
Social mores are changing. Taboos are being broken. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) created the “Think B4 You Speak” campaign that ran during an NBA game last week. (Sadly, NBA Bulls’ star center Joakim Noah called a fan a “faggot” during the same game, but apologized within hours, and was fined $50,000 the next day. Progress sometimes takes a few steps back and forth.)
Now the San Francisco Giants are making an “It Gets Better” video to help bullied gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth. There’s no denying that this is a very different world than the one Justin Fashanu prematurely left in 1998.
Except for football. Last week, smack dab in the middle of what amounts to a virtual gay pride parade in the rest of the sports world, German football team Bayern Munich’s captain Philipp Lahm became the most recent sports figure to reiterate the message that coming out – for a football star – would be “difficult.” Let me be clear: by many accounts Lahm is an ally to the LGBT sporting community. Yet somehow, being gay is still seen as a handicap for footballers.
Anton Hysén proved that with the support of family and a little swagger, a footballer could come out as gay and keep his career. Still, at the very top of the sport, despite public relations suggesting the contrary, blatant homophobia is rewarded.
In mid-February 2011, the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) officially endorsed The Justin Campaign, a group dedicated to ending homophobia in football. Also in mid-February 2011, and in cooperation with the international governing body of football, 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 only six months ago, 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.
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.
It’s time for a game-changer.