In some respects U.K. professional sports leagues are far behind their American counterparts. The hiring of minority coaches is only recently an issue in the British Premiere Soccer League, and problems persist in openly racist behavior and violence in the sport.
However, one area where those across the pond seem to have moved ahead is in the discussion and invitation of openly gay men in athletics. On Monday January 30th, BBC 3 in England will present Britian’s Gay Footballers, a documentary about both the outed and closeted men within the sport.
The first and most prominent soccer player / footballer to come out of the closet in the U.K. was Justin Fashnu who came out in 1990 and hung himself in 1998, believed to be in part due to racial and homophobic abuse by his family, fans and teammates. A major news report was made about Fashnu and gay footballers in 2008 to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of his death , but this upcoming BBC 3 special is getting much more attention and will be a heavier investigation about why homophobia is still so rampant in professional sports.
There have only been a couple American athletes that have come out of the closet, most recently former NBA player John Amechi and WNBA hall of famer Cheryl Swopes, who was first straight, then gay and is now married a man. While these were incredibly brave acts, especially for people who will bear the stigma of being double minorities – gay and African American – there is still some criticism. There are some in the gay community who say coming out after you’ve retired from the game is the easy way. One can only hope that American professional sports will one day reach the point where being gay and an athlete can be discussed openly as opposed to an annoying public service ad or as an insult. But, until then, at least there’s the BBC.