Two pro soccer referees have come out as gay in Scotland, saying they want to help change the culture in the sport.
Craig Napier (a category one referee, the highest in Scottish soccer) and Lloyd Wilson (who referees in the lower league) came out in separate interviews, Napier in a video for the Scottish Football Assn. and Wilson in a video for the mental health charity Back Onside.
“There is still something about football at the moment. There is still that barrier,” Napier, 32, said. “There are no footballers on the pitch who are open, but they are there. Until we have these conversations and have these role models on the pitch, there will be that stigma, there will be that fear and that’s what we need to change.”
“We need to see the climate change so that people feel they can be their true self and live happily and comfortably in their own skin,” Napier said, urging people to try and overcome their fear and live openly.
“I’ve never had a bad experience when I’ve had these conversations. I’ve always felt so much lighter,” he said. “This is not a conversation about me, it’s a conversation about trying to change the culture.”
In his interview, Wilson, 31, said he often joined in when people where making anti-gay jokes, saying “it’s easier to have banter about the subject when you’re hiding yourself.” He said doing that made him feel “horrific.”
Wilson said he lived “a journey of maybe 17 years of living a life that I didn’t want to live, living a lie, living the way that other people maybe wanted me to live or that I thought other people wanted me to live. And probably dictated and directed in many ways by football.”
In a separate interview with Sky Sports News, Wilson said he sees signs of change in soccer, while acknowledging how the sport has lagged behind in its acceptance of LGBTQ people.
“There are people watching the game, week-in, week-out, there are people playing the game, there are people coaching the game, working in the game who are petrified even, and I hope that if my story encourages even one person then I’ve done a good job,” Wilson said.
“I think now I can walk about the streets not having to be feeling as though I’m different. That needs to be normalized now and we’re starting to make good inroads, the evidence I think is there. Football I hope is prepared and ready for it and I’m pretty certain Scottish football is.”
Wilson, echoing what so many LGBTQ people in sports say after they come out, said he was shocked by how positive the reaction has been.
“The reaction has been exceptional, I’ve not had one negative comment,” he said. “That was what I was really fearing. I’m bracing myself that they may come, I’m not naive enough to think that something might not come.”
The experiences of Napier and Wilson continue to show that visibility in sports is vital for LGBTQ athletes, coaches, referees and anyone else with a role on a team or in a league. Their stories also show that the fear that holds people back is almost always way overblown.