We've seen the issue of homosexuality in football continue to appear in the media this week. It started with FA chairman Greg Clarke's comments earlier in the week when he said that an openly gay player would receive "significant abuse". I've already shared my thoughts on Greg Clarke's comments but as the week has gone on we have heard reactions from people involved in high levels of the sport.
Firstly we had Chris Sutton, a pundit I don't have much time for, write his piece in the Daily Mail, a newspaper that I don't have much time for, you can read the article here. However, despite my reservations about the paper and pundit in question I did think it was an interesting article. I find that Chris Sutton has a habit of saying anything that will get him more attention and I think that may be the case here but he did make some interesting thoughts. He says that "there has never been a better for a footballer to come out and say 'I am gay'". I do agree that there has never been a better time, society is becoming more tolerant of homosexuality, but I get the impression that Sutton is implying that it would be easy. I definitely do not think it would be easy for those first players.
He also says that "it will be the best thing happens to the homophobia debate". Again I do agree with Sutton that a player coming out would be a huge and positive step forward in the issue of homosexuality in football. However, what Sutton appears to have ignored here is the difficulty that those first players would have to endure. He seems to have forgotten that it requires a brave, brave player to take that initial step that will drive the debate forward.
However I do think that some of Sutton's comments were completely off the mark. He said that "I'm convinced 99.9% of people would share the same view, so are we now setting the levels based on how the 0.1% would react?". There is some validity in what he says but there are two points here that I feel I need to cover. Greg Clarke talked about removing the homophobic atmosphere from football. Sutton seems happy for a minority to exist and allow them to preach hate. We should strive to remove homophobia, in all forms, from football and not allow any minority to exist, no matter how small. This brings me to the second point of Sutton's that I disagree. I think the percentage of people who are homophobic within football is a lot higher than 0.1%. There will also be supporters out there who aren't necessarily homophobic but who use homophobic language without realising it. I often get the impression that straight players and fans don't fully appreciate homophobia when it exists in football. They perhaps develop a deafness to it whereas members of the LGBT community can pick up on it a lot easier. I have been in situations were I have heard homophobic comments at football that nobody else has picked on as being unacceptable.
For example here is a video of thousands of Hearts fans singing homophobic abuse
This was only four years ago and its hard to say that this is only 0.1% of fans. I can't remember Sutton's outcry at this singing but perhaps now that it is become a fashionable subject to talk about he has decided to join in. For those of us who are members of the LGBT community it is an ongoing battle that doesn't just appear every now and then.
Someone who has constantly spoken about the issue of homosexuality in football, not just when it is fashionable, is Joey Barton. A hugely controversial figure and someone who is disliked by many for a number of reasons but I will give him credit for his support of the LGBT community. He spoke to Guardian journalist Owen Jones, who himself is openly gay, this week.
I thought that Joey Barton spoke very well and made some excellent points. He says that players avoid talking about the subject because they fear that they get accused of being gay. Barton says this has happened to him before. I don't think this attitude is restricted only to players I believe it also exists among fans. A fan would have no issue standing up and challenging someone who made a racist comment. However it is hard to imagine a fan standing up amongst a group to challenge a homophobic comment. Certainly from my experiences I have never seen someone challenge a homophobic comment and I've heard many during my time involved in playing and supporting football. I get the impression that if a fan did challenge such a comment that they would be accused to being gay. This reason has previously prevented me from challenging such behaviour. I think that in time attitudes would change once there are more openly gay players.
We do still have a long way to go however the longer the subject remains in the media spotlight the more fans are exposed to the fact that homophobia is unacceptable.