Our Chief Executive responds to the Guardian's article entitled 'Anti-Homophobia Crusaders Fail to Enlist Gay Footballer for DVD' (22/09/11)
Comment is Free, 29th September 2011
Our Guardian Response in full:
I am writing in response to your article entitled: “The final taboo: anti-homophobia crusaders fail to enlist a gay player” (22/09/11).
Show Racism the Red Card shared a preview copy of our new film ‘Homophobia; Let’s Tackle It” with The Guardian in the hope of drawing attention to this upcoming resource.
I believe this article was misleading and failed to represent the purpose of our campaign. Contrary to the article’s headline, we have interviewed several gay and lesbian sports professionals for our film from a range of sports: Martina Navratilova, Gareth Thomas, Donal Og Cussack and Anton Hysen.
The focus of the article centred on the need for a gay premier league player to take part in the film. Whilst we would of course welcome an out gay footballer speaking out against homophobia, this is not the purpose of our campaign. From the outset, the film aimed to represent people of all sexual orientations, united in a message against homophobia.
To quote Benjamin Franklin, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” When dealing with inequality and prejudice, these words ring true. It shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of the targeted group to make a stand; it is everyone’s responsibility to speak out against homophobia. Our anti-racism resources feature top professional footballers. Many have not personally been a target of racism but they speak passionately about the subject and recognise their responsibility to combat racist attitudes and behaviour. SRtRC’s successful model of using high profile footballers as role models to educate young people about racism led to us being commissioned to create a resource tackling homophobia.
Your article stated that “Grebby’s frustration extends to being unable to even get recognisable, straight premier league players involved in Show Racism’s film”. Is it any wonder that straight people may feel reluctant to speak out against homophobia? In November last year Mario Gomez of Bayern Munich spoke on the subject and received international press coverage. Graeme Le Saux, though straight, received torrents of homophobic abuse throughout his career. His recent autobiography discloses that the taunts and bullying he received left him close to walking away from football.
We were thrilled to interview PFA Chairman Clarke Carlisle as part of this film. This is in addition to several other straight professional footballers and managers past and present: Chris Powell, Craig Levein, Darren Purse, Jonas Ollson and Danny Simpson. This range of support is unprecedented in football and we hope it will help to break down some of the barriers to addressing homophobia.
We are confident that this film will have a significant educational impact. Sporting role models speaking out on the subject gives added confidence to teachers addressing the topic. This project is not about outing professional footballers or in indeed anyone; it is about tackling homophobic bullying in society. With the accompanying education pack, this film will empower educators and young people to recognise and reject homophobia. This in part comes from challenging underlying issues such as the persistent idea of ‘gender norms’ which form the basis for much homophobic abuse. Let’s not forget that homophobia affects not only LGBT people, but also those who have friends or family members who are gay; people perceived to be gay, or anyone who doesn’t conform to the rigid stereotypical ideas of ‘how a girl should behave’ or ‘what a boy should be interested in’ – as Le Saux experienced.
Since the Guardian article was published last week, Show Racism the Red Card has received a huge level of media attention around “professional footballers refusing to back our campaign against homophobia”. This is unhelpful and fuels a) the perception that homophobia within football remains unchallenged and b) the myth that professional footballers don’t care about this issue.
We recognise that this is a subject that many players are uncomfortable to speak out about. The portrayal of homophobia as a taboo subject is self-fulfilling, contributing significantly to this sense of reluctance. There can be a huge sense of gravitas associated to discussing sexuality, but, to quote the fantastic Stonewall campaign, “some people are gay – get over it”.
There needs to be a wider consideration here of the factors that prevent footballers from feeling able to talk about these issues. When the world’s media are ready to jump on anybody who is bold enough to even mention the word gay (shock, horror!) it’s not surprising that people who are at the top of their career are wary of speaking out.
In 1996 when we founded Show Racism the Red Card, football had already taken significant steps towards tackling racism within the sport. Our educational model of using footballers as anti-racism role models has led to a wider cultural shift in attitudes. I truly believe that this can also be the case for tackling homophobia.