Orkun Kokcu, a rising soccer star playing in the Netherlands, refused to wear a rainbow armband last week to support LGBTQ people.
Add another one to the list.
Kokcu, like many other athletes who decline to wear rainbow paraphernalia, cited religion as the reason for his snub.
“I think it’s important to emphasise that I respect everyone regardless of religion, background or preference. I believe that everyone is free to do what they want or feel,” he said, via the Daily Mirror. “I fully understand the importance of this action, but because of my religious beliefs, I don’t feel [I’m] the right person to support this.”
Kokcu added that he didn’t intend to disappoint anyone, but needed to stay true to his beliefs — whatever they are.
“I can imagine some people are disappointed with this. That is absolutely not my intention, although I realize that I may not immediately be able to take away that feeling with these words,” he said. “But I hope that my choice for religious reasons will also be respected.”
The notion that Kokcu’s religious beliefs prevent him from publicly supporting the LGBTQ community is insulting. Make no mistake: athletes, and most people for that matter, pick and choose which aspects of their religions they follow. Being religious doesn’t also mean being anti-gay.
Look no further than college football player Byron Perkins, who included #ThankYouGod in his recent coming-out post. “You can be gay and be religious,” he told Outsports’ Cyd Zeigler.
In recent months, a troubling number of athletes have refused to wear rainbow Pride uniforms. Most notably, multiple members of the Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff didn’t wear a rainbow insignia on their uniforms during Pride Night.
Unsurprisingly, the group’s spokesman, Jason Adam, said the snub was a “faith-based decision.”
Following the Rays’ debacle, numerous athletes across the world have refused to wear rainbows on their uniforms. Seven players of the Manly Sea Eagles in Australia, as well as Paris Saint Germain’s Idrissa Gueye, who hails from the rabidly anti-gay country of Senegal, also backed out of wearing rainbow patches and armbands.
Kokcu, 21, was so steadfast in his refusal, he forfeited his captaincy for the match.
It’s easy to dismiss rainbow uniforms as meaningless symbols, but that misses the point. Sports, and especially male team sports, have historically been an exclusionary space for LGBTQ people. Seeing players outwardly demonstrate their support for the LGBTQ community shows gay people there’s a place for them on the field.
It’s especially important to get this inclusionary message across in the weeks leading up to the World Cup, which will be held later this year in Qatar, one of the most anti-LGBTQ countries in the world.
It is still illegal to be gay in Qatar, and homosexuality can lead to imprisonment or even death. Earlier this year, a high-ranking Qatari security official said authorities may confiscate rainbow flags at World Cup events ... to protect LGBTQ fans.
Nasser Mohamed, a Qatari-born physician now living in San Francisco, recently sounded the alarm in an essay for Outsports about the dismal state of LGBTQ rights in his home country.
The first World Cup matches are slated to start one month from Thursday.
Kokcu plays for Turkey in international competition, and thus, won’t be at the World Cup. But thousands of players, coaches and media members will be.
Here’s hoping they take the brave stand that Kokcu didn’t.