Thierry Henry has given his backing to players who wish to come out as gay, stressing the football fraternity should accept homosexuality in a manner that echos the ‘different world’ in which we live.
In 2013 Robbie Rogers, formerly of Leeds United, became the first professional athlete playing in any of the five major North American sports leagues to openly reveal his sexuality. On his retirement German midfielder, Thomas Hitzelsperger, also confirmed he was gay. Their example remains a rarity.
Indeed, as things stand no male player currently contracted to a British club has followed suit – with the culture of the game, and the ‘terraces’, the chief impediment. There’s also the case of Justin Fashanu, the most high profile footballer to come out in the UK, who suffered years of homophobic abuse before he took his own life in 1998, at the age of 37.
Speaking as an ambassador for the Sky Academy’s ‘confidence month‘ Henry touched on why the decisions individuals make in their private life would in no way affect his relationship with them in the dressing room or on the pitch, and why it’s time for attitudes to change.
“We’re living in a different time, a different world, and people should accept that,” he told Sky News.
“It’s not a problem, we’re ultimately there to do a job. Whatever you believe in, whatever you do,” he said.
“If I was in a dressing room, that guy would still have been my teammate and I would still give him the ball, and I would still see him the same way, still go out with him.
“We’re all human beings at the end of the day, so it doesn’t really bother me.”
The men’s game in the UK lags behind the women’s where Lianne Sanderson and Casey Stoney, both openly gay, have represented England. Henry’s comments come in the wake of a Sunday Mirror article which claimed that two Premier League stars who reportedly believe ‘the time is right to come out’.
Obviously it remains to be seen if such bravery – and let’s be under no illusions that’s what it would be – is imminent, but let’s hope that football as a whole is ready to embrace those who do come out, and begins to leave its deeply entrenched homophobia in the past where it belongs.