Spain’s Hector Bellerin, who plays professionally for Arsenal of the English Premier League, likes fashion, is a vegan and wears his hair long. Therefore, according to a segment of fans, he is gay and should be showered with homophobic abuse.
“People have called me ‘lesbian’ for growing my hair,” he said in an interview with the Times of London (behind a pay wall). “There are other kinds of homophobic insults. I have learnt to grow a thick skin but it can affect you. Every now and again, you get a bit of self-doubt.”
“Some of it can get very abusive. Most of the abuse is online, but you hear it in the stadium, too.”
Bellerin, 23, said the abuse was so bad that he temporarily closed his Twitter account. His experience has led him to conclude that it would be impossible for a gay EPL player to come out.
“The problem is that people have an idea of what a footballer should look like, how they should behave, what they should talk about,” he said.
“It is impossible that anybody could be openly gay in football. Some fans are not ready. When it happened in rugby with the Welsh player [Gareth Thomas], people respected the situation. The fans respected his decision.
“In football, the culture is different. It can be very personal, very nasty, particularly for players from the opposition team.”
Bellerin was encouraged by the positive response to the Times’ article and was back on Twitter.
Just want to say a big thank you for the support shown after yesterday's article. It's important to raise the issues in football, society and make people aware of what we go through. Much love ❤️— Héctor Bellerín (@HectorBellerin) September 9, 2018
It’s discouraging what has happened to Bellerin and it’s easy to see why he fells that way about an openly gay player. The EPL has taken steps to embrace LGBT initiatives and some stars support the rainbow laces campaign, but there are still segments of fans who seem stuck in the 19th century when it comes to being enlightened and their actions can still have an effect on players.