This morning I was happy to see prominent football players, captains, wearing the rainbow armband and speaking out for LGBTQ+ rights. How far we’ve come, I thought, even now when the shadow of xenophobia and fascism is ever-present. They aren’t ashamed to speak out. Things can change.
However, while there was an interview with another footballer saying a premier league player that declared they were gay would be welcomed, there have been others that said coming out would be impossible due to the abuse. The insults, the jeering. Then this type of honesty is derided, not the atmosphere. There must be a reason it hasn’t happened yet in the top leagues. So it was a little disconcerting, but not surprising to see that the Premier League was focusing on fans. Fans are critical to this issue, but it is interesting that they felt the need to make this distinction.
And then there are the comments. So many hiding behind a religion or saying that politics doesn’t belong in sport. This on top of an MP refusing to rebuke Millwall for booing at players taking a knee for BLM. Ignorant, fearful, hate filled comments.
The battle is not over.
This is one of the reasons I wrote Touch Memory. Because of the secrets that must be out there. Because this needs to change. Players must be able to be who they are, love who they want, live their lives. It spoils the game to have an idea of toxic masculinity intervene in people’s lives, and possibly in the style of play as well. Do players need concussions and skull fractures to prove something? Is a dangerous tackle better than finesse on the ball?
And the irony of women’s football being more accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals. Some silver lining – if “everyone” thinks all women athletes are gay anyway, it’s an easier step to take? That’s a very uncertain benefit. And the stereotype leads to women athletes chasing after an image, trying to prove “femininity”, in order to win sponsorships and fans. What a world.
I was able to watch one of my heroes, tennis champion Martina Navratilova, at a demonstration match and at a “senior” match (there’s another form of discrimination, but more on that another day). She was an incredible pioneer, and continues to demonstrate in the present a fierce humor and intelligence. She wasn’t and isn’t afraid to speak up, and is still fighting to have an arena in Australia renamed due to the homophobia of the current namesake. A legend – winning an unmatched 59 grand slam titles. One of the greatest athletes ever – an inspiration. A symbol of what is possible.
Maybe you think all this doesn’t affect you. But oppression colours everything. A world where people live in fear, unwilling to speak up for human rights, pressuring others to conform to some constructed idea of normality – diminishes all the possibilities, all the hopes, all the ways to understand our lives.
People must be free to be who they are. It’s not fair that this still needs to be said, but in the face of bigotry and injustice, there must be a stronger force carrying society forward to equality. Especially now, we must reject the normalizing of hate, violence, and discrimination – in all its forms.