The Sun, one of London’s big gossip rags, has taken some heat over the last few days for an item the paper ran about a secret affair a professional soccer player is allegedly having with a gay man.
The alleged player’s anonymous “21-year-old lover” reportedly spoke to The Sun about the secret relationship in hopes of helping the cause.
Of course, the end result is only hurting it.
Articles like this seem to pop up every few years. As far back as 2001, then-Out-magazine editor Brendan Lemon wrote about a secret affair he claimed to be having with a Major League Baseball player, prompting widespread speculation.
In 2013, Brendan Ayanbadejo speculated that four gay NFL players were talking to one another about coming out as a group, despite Ayanbadejo having no knowledge of four players or such a conversation.
Last year some self-promoter claimed he was talking to 20 gay pro soccer players. While virtually no one believed him, the media ran with it.
Every time these articles get published, the same thing happens: The content of the conversation gets lost amidst the speculation of “who is it” guessing games and shocking headlines. Actual gay and bisexual pro athletes double their efforts to keep their secret hidden as they watch the mob sweep through social media looking in every corner for hints about who the athlete might be.
Making matters worst, this particular Sun article is a salacious account of these two men’s alleged affair, complete with intimate revelations that undermine the writer’s claim that this is all to help gay athletes.
This isn’t to say anonymous LGBTQ people in sports cannot effectively further the conversation about inclusion by sharing their stories. We at Outsports have published items like that in the past, with a college football player, an athlete at a Christian college and five closeted college basketball coaches.
In each of those articles, it was the subject themselves sharing their own stories, their hopes and fears and successes and trials.
Stories like the one run by The Sun trade on gossip and innuendo. While certainly the player’s “lover” has a story to tell, it’s only of interest to the public because of the athlete. It’s up to that athlete to share his story, not some gossip rag.
People across soccer, including openly gay referee Ryan Atkin and various fan and LGBTQ-athlete groups, snapped back at The Sun and its history of trying to make being gay “salacious.”
What’s more, the story offers personal details about the athlete — like his taste in music and the children he has — that could identify him to people.
In the end the “lover” admits that things have “died down” between the two of them, 1) telling us it’s doubtful he ran this story past the bisexual athlete, and 2) casting him as a jilted lover looking for retribution.
No good comes from articles like this. The Sun has published a blind item it has no ability to corroborate, that gives identifying characteristics of a man they admit to knowing does not want to be identified, and builds yet still more fear in the minds of LGBTQ professional soccer players.
With so many LGBTQ people in lower levels of British sports willing to share their stories, it’s a shame The Sun chose to highlight a story that, despite the claims of the paper and the “lover,” serves only to harm an athlete.