Over the last year British tabloids have stepped up their effort to force gay professional soccer players to come out. They’ve intensified the effort in the last couple of weeks with rampant speculation about closeted athletes, using allegedly anonymous sources to build a witch hunt that they hope forces athletes to declare their sexual orientation.
There are few more egregious demonstrations of the abuse of the freedom of the press than the dangerous game British tabloids are engaging in now. Claiming to know the identities of gay or bi Premier League players, these publications and the “journalists” behind the rumors are no better than the bums in the stands screaming anti-gay slurs and epithets at their hated rivals.
Actually, they are worse.
One report by the Daily Star — with zero attribution of sources, of course — claims two teammates are being abused by teammates for an apparent relationship.
“The other footballer — who teammates have teased for being in a relationship with the fellow pro — found a sex toy left of his car, it is claimed.”
If anything gets a big fat “LOL” in journalism, it’s the “it is claimed” clause.
Another baseless story by The Sun claimed a 21-year-old man reported on a relationship with a Premier League player who is married to a woman. “The Sun knows the identity of the footballer but has chosen not to reveal his name,” they wrote in hopes of stirring a witch hunt.
While they will hide behind their usual excuses for the garbage they routinely publish about public figures, the consequences of their behavior here is potentially dire. A horrific 44% of LGBT youth in the United Kingdom report contemplating suicide, and half have reported successfully harming themselves in some way.
This isn’t a game various British tabloids are engaged in, it’s literally a matter of life and death.
Outsports has discussed public rumors and speculation in the past. When claims that Aaron Rodgers was gay seeped across the media, and Rodgers himself answered questions about it, we addressed it. When former NFL player Kerry Rhodes publicly addressed stories about him being gay, we wrote about it. As more and more fans and journalists speculated about the sexual orientation of Tim Tebow, I publicly chastised myself — called myself a “schmuck” — for how I’d talked about Tebow in the past.
We at Outsports have reacted to reports and speculation when it reached what we deemed a “critical mass.”
That’s not what’s going on here. The British tabloids are not addressing public speculation, they are generating it. They are not responding to whispers, they are starting them.
They are not responding to public comments by the athletes themselves, they are trying to force them to speak and, in the meantime, driving gay athletes to more secrecy and fear.
No one values the power of LGBTQ athletes coming out publicly more than we at Outsports. We have made it the focus of our work, encouraging people to share their true selves with the world, showing them every day that acceptance in sports is far more widespread then they realize.
Yet we would never try to force an athlete, coach or anyone else to come out to anyone.
Planting public seeds of innuendo do nothing but breed fear and contempt: fear in the hearts of the athletes struggling to find courage, and contempt from a community yearning for role models in the powerful cultural institution of sports.
These are both misplaced. Over and over and over again at Outsports we have worked with LGBTQ athletes to come out to their friends, family, teammates, and sometimes even the world. Despite sharing the stories of hundreds of gay athletes in the last 10 years, we can count on one hand those who found rejection from teammates or coaches... and still have a couple fingers left over.
Even as a business decision, the behavior of these tabloids is misguided. As they wage this war against gay athletes, they ensure that they will not be the publications said athletes go to when they want to come out publicly — the kind of story that would truly sell newspapers.
No good comes from these reckless actions of The Sun, Daily Star and other British tabloids that try to build viewership on the fear of gay athletes.