Een voetballer uit de Premier League in Engeland heeft via een open brief anoniem zijn coming-out gedaan. Vrienden en familie weten het wel, maar zijn club en manager niet.
“Ik ben homoseksueel. Zelfs dit opschrijven in deze brief is een grote stap voor mij”, schrijft hij.
“Ik weet sinds mijn negentiende dat ik homoseksueel ben. Hoe het voelt om zo te leven? Het kan echt een nachtmerrie zijn.”
Volgens de speler is de voetbalwereld er nog niet klaar voor om te horen dat iemand openlijk homoseksueel is. “Er moeten radicale veranderingen komen, wil ik mij veilig genoeg voelen om die stap te zetten.”
De voetballer is niet mals voor de spelersvakbond. “De spelersvakbond zegt bereid te zijn een speler te helpen om uit de kast te komen. Ze hebben begeleiding en hulp aangeboden. Ze missen het punt. Als ík hulp nodig heb, kan ik wanneer ik maar wil een sessie inplannen.”
De voetballer zou het liefst willen dat hij zijn leven zonder leugens kan leiden. Maar de realiteit is, zegt hij, dat er nog steeds een enorme hoeveelheid vooroordelen zijn. “Hoe vaak ik wel niet homofobe liederen en opmerkingen van supporters heb gehoord.”
In 1990 was Justin Fashanu de eerste professionele voetballer die uit de kast kwam. De aanvaller speelde voor Notts County en West Ham United en pleegde in 1998 zelfmoord op 37-jarige leeftijd, nadat hij beschuldigd werd van seks met te jonge kerels.
As a kid, all I ever wanted to be was a footballer. I wasn’t interested in doing well at school. Instead of doing homework, every spare minute I had was spent with a ball. In the end it paid off. But even now I still have to pinch myself when I run out and get to play each week in front of tens of thousands of people.
However there is something that sets me apart from most of the other players in the Premier League. I am gay. Even writing that down in this letter is a big step for me. But only my family members and a select group of friends are aware of my sexuality. I don’t feel ready to share it with my team or my manager. That’s hard. I spend most of my life with these guys and when we step out on the pitch we are a team.
But still, something inside me makes it impossible for me to be open with them about how I feel. I dearly hope one day soon I will be able to. I’ve known since I was about 19 that I was gay. How does it feel having to live like this? Day-to-day, it can be an absolute nightmare. And it is affecting my mental health more and more. I feel trapped and my fear is that disclosing the truth about what I am will only make things worse.
So, although my heart often tells me I need to do it my head always says the same thing: “Why risk it all?” I am lucky enough to earn a very good wage. I have a nice car, a wardrobe full of designer clothes and can afford to buy anything I want for my family and friends.
But one thing I am missing is companionship. I am at an age where I would love to be in a relationship. But because of the job I do the level of trust in having a long-term partner has to be extremely high.
So, at the moment, I avoid relationships at all. I dearly hope I will soon meet someone who I think I will be able to trust enough. The truth is I just don’t think football is ready yet for a player to come out. The game would need to make radical changes in order for me to feel able to make that step.
The Professional Footballers Association say they are ready to help a player to come out. And they have said they will offer counselling and support to anyone who needs it. This is missing the point. If I need a counsellor I can go and book a session with one whenever I want.
What those running the game need to do is educate fans, players, managers, agents, club owners basically everyone involved in the game. If I was to make that step I’d want to know that I would be supported at each step of my journey. Right now, I don’t feel I would be.
I wish I didn’t have to live my life in such a way. But the reality is there is still a huge amount of prejudice in football. There are countless times I’ve heard homophobic chants and comments from supporters directed at no one in particular.
Strangely it doesn’t really bother me during the matches. I am too focused on playing. It’s when I get back on the plane or the coach and I have time to think that it gets to me. As things stand my plan is to carry on playing for as long as I feel able to and then come out when I have retired.
It was great last month to see Thomas Beattie raise his hand and admit to being gay. But the fact he had to wait until retirement tells you all you need to know. Footballers are still too scared to make the step while they are playing.
For the past year I have been getting support from the Justin Fashanu Foundation, not least to cope with the toll this is all having on my mental health.
It is hard to put into words how much the Foundation has helped. It has made me feel supported and understood as well as giving me the confidence to be more open and honest with myself especially.
Without that support I really don’t know where I’d be now. I know it might get to the point where I find it impossible to keep living a lie. If I do my plan is to retire early and come out. I might be throwing away years of a lucrative career.
But you can’t put a price on your peace of mind. And I don’t want to live like this forever.
Beeld: Timothy Junes