“I’m a football player. I can’t be gay.”
It must be more than a coincidence that another gender inequality in football concerns another equally anachronistic phenomenon, the treatment of homosexuality. German ARD national TV channel recently aired a programme with strong homosexual content as part of its popular crime series Tatort (Crime location) entitled “Murder in the 1st League”. The instalment had 9 million viewers, a huge success, and with a happy ending of a professional player’s public outing, it was very politically correct. The main protagonist comments on media innuendo, saying, “you know, half the national team including its coach are reputed to be gay.” The real life manager of the national squad, Oliver Bierhoff, felt obliged to comment in Germany’s number one tabloid Bild that he felt the National Eleven had been abused,
and his “family” attacked, and he threatened to take measures to be better prepared in future to defend against such defamation. Fuses blow whenever homosexuality is mentioned in football.
But why? Sports represents one of the last bastions of traditional male hegemony. It is defined by the denigration of femininity and the exclusion of women as well as by a firm denial of homosexuality. Hence an article in the Sunday edition of Germany’s quality newspaper FAZ on 17 February 2008 headlined, “I’m a footballer, I can’t be gay”. Whilst a homosexual outing in politics, business, the media or the art world is no longer seen as detrimental to one’s career, homosexuality on the pitch remains blatantly taboo. In spite of official football association efforts, the grounds have not really become reserves of political correctness, and homophobia is often an essential expression of fan culture. It is therefore easy to understand why only two prominent professional players ever outed themselves, Justin Fashanu, (who committed suicide in 1990, in a delayed response to his inability to cope with the repercussions), and Anton Hysén of the 4th Swedish League in 2011.