Homophobia in football, and the lack of openly gay footballers

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In October 2021, Australian footballer Josh Cavallo came out as gay. Cavallo became the first openly gay footballer since February 2013, when Columbus Crew’s Robbie Rogers came out. After the American’s retirement in 2017, the men’s football scene was without an open member of the LGBTQ+ community for four years. Cavallo’s bravery paved the way for 17-year-old Jake Daniels, a Blackpool youth product who came out as gay in May 2022. With hundreds of thousands of professional players worldwide, the fact of the matter remains that more LGBTQ+ members of the footballing community remain in the closet, unwilling to come out.

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But why? Is it the fear of homophobia from spectators? Are footballers not able to feel fully comfortable in their own team environments? Or is there a deeper-lying issue preventing openly LGBTQ+ footballers from making it pro altogether? These are questions that have been lingering for years within the footballing landscape, that few have been willing to answer. The bravery shown by both Cavallo and Daniels could serve as a gateway into showing others that they don’t need to hide who they are. In fact, for both, they cited that as one of the main goals in sharing their own story.

“I hope that in sharing who I am, I can show others who identify as LGBTQ+ that they are welcome in the football community.”

– Josh Cavallo

Despite that dream, deeper-lying issues continue to exist, particularly when it comes to tackling homophobia and the lack of acceptance that ripples throughout the entire footballing world.

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One of the stranger aspects of the conversation – there are a plethora of openly LGBTQ+ footballers in the women’s game. It’s not as though homophobia or discrimination fail to exist in the women’s game. But perhaps there is more room within the team environments themselves for women to feel accepted to be who they are. Any women’s footballer that comes out as gay knows that they will be supported by a community of other players. That community just so happens to include some of the game’s biggest stars – from Vivianne Miedema to Marta, Megan Rapinoe to Rachel Daly, Pernille Harder and Magdalena Eriksson, all the way to Sam Kerr. If a majority of the game’s biggest stars in the men’s game also came out as LGBTQ+, it’s reasonable to hypothesize that we’d experience a different atmosphere surrounding homophobia in men’s football, and that many others would follow suit in feeling safe to show their true selves.

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But for the time being, we instead see professional players who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community only feeling safe to come out after they retire. In January 2019, former Botafogo footballer Douglas Braga told BBC News that he quit football aged 21, feeling that it was impossible for him to exist in the footballing world as an openly gay man. More famously, German pro Thomas Hitzlsperger came out after retirement back in 2014. He announced then and there that he thought football was on the path toward greater acceptance.

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He was wrong. It took seven more years for another pro footballer in the men’s game to come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. In that time, fans of Premier League clubs have been banned for chanting homophobic remarks on a monthly basis, and even UEFA themselves investigated Manuel Neuer for wearing a rainbow armband in support of diversity and inclusion. Spanish referee Jesús Tomillero received death threats and had to be put under police protection after coming out in 2016; and more recently, Idrissa Gueye of PSG refused to wear a shirt with a rainbow on it. All of these examples point to the fact that the footballing universe is not yet fully accepting of footballers who may identify within the LGBTQ+, contributing toward keeping players in the closet. It’s not just fans. It’s not even just the environments at football clubs themselves. It goes as deep as some of football’s governing bodies; and wider conceptions of masculinity and femininity in sport.

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Hopefully the bravery shown by Cavallo and Daniels will inspire more footballers to do the same, and share with the world an important part of their identity that should not need to be hidden. Unfortunately, the footballing community remains stuck in the dinosaur age, and we may not see that promise come to full fruition until there is a wider shift. If one of the game’s biggest stars were ever to make themselves known as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, that may be a positive step. But first the footballing world has to become fully accepting of the idea of an openly gay footballer plying their trade in the men’s game, and provide a safe space for players to be who they are outside of football.

about the author

rhys desmond


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As the founder of TheMastermindSite.com back in 2016, I have worked tirelessly to create one of the biggest tactics & analysis websites the beautiful game has to offer. Combining my knowledge of writing, coaching, analysis and the game as a whole, I want to help you take your craft to the next level.

In 2020, I helped undergraduate students at Western University in London, ON, develop their coaching craft, in a three month Coaching & Leadership course. A month later, I began my path as the Technical Director of the club I started my coaching career with, helping coach, mentor and develop close to 100 coaches. In 2021, I began working with current and former professional players, helping them develop their knowledge and ideas about the game, improve their performance and prepare for life in the coaching world. Throughout that time, I accumulated training through MBP and the PFSA in the realms of analysis, scouting and performance-based football; the OS, CSA, and HighFive in coaching & mentorship; and worked with coaches around the world from 20+ nations. In 2023, I am now back at Western University as a Lecturer, teaching their Coaching & Leadership course to 50+ undergraduate students.

Since the start of my mentorship masterclass, I have worked with professional players, former pros developing their coaching craft, industry-leading writers, and community coaches. Not every professional environment has the ability to afford a performance analyst, so I offer a cheap option for pro players and coaches to take their knowledge and game understanding to the next level, developing solutions, training techniques and tactical understandings through the analysis of video footage in a 1-on-1 setting where continuous feedback can be applied.

If you are interested in taking your footballing craft to the next level, simply fill out the contact form, or email rhys@themastermindsite.com.

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