Tale of Two Footballs: Euro Soccer Star Doesn’t Want ’Queers’ on His Team; NFL’s Barwin Says it’s A-OK
Homophobia in sports occurs far too often as a number of athletes around the world have made derogatory remarks about gay players. This week, Italy forward Antonio Cassano made anti-gay remarks and said that he hopes there are no gay players on his team. He then used an anti-gay epithet to describe them.
When a reporter told the athlete that there may be some players who are in the closet, Cassano said, "Queers in the national team? That’s their problem, but I hope not. ... But I don’t know."
After receiving criticism from Italian gay activists, who said Cassano should be kicked off his team, the athlete apologized, Out Sports reported.
"I sincerely regret that my statements have sparked controversy and protest from gay rights’ groups," he said in a statement. "Homophobia is a sentiment that is not mine. I did not want to offend anyone and I can not question the sexual freedom of other people. I only said that it is a problem that does not concern me and it is not for me to pass judgment on the choices of others, who are all respected."
These latest remarks are just an example of why some gay professional athletes stay in the closet during their professional career. In January Lee Steele, a British soccer player, was dismissed from the Oxford City of the Southern Premiere League after writing anti-gay tweets.
"I wouldn’t fancy the bed next to Gareth Thomas #padlockeda**ehole," he wrote referring to openly gay rugby star Gareth Thomas’ participation in the popular reality television show "Celebrity Big Brother." Thomas made history as the first out-gay male athlete in any pro team in the world.
Club officials discussed how to handle Steele’s remarks and came to the conclusion that they had to remove him.
Not all sports players feel the same way, however, as Houston Texan Connor Barwin recently voiced his support for same-sex marriage and a more accepting culture in the NFL.
The linebacker told Out Sports that his interest on marriage equality comes from his family - namely his older brother Joe who is gay.
"I just embrace diversity and it stems from my parents. I’ve seen how important it is to my brother and have watched how it’s changed over time and how it’s changed in the NFL and how much more people are beginning to understand and accept gay people in all different areas of life," he said. "I feel I can make a stand in the position I’m in, especially in such a masculine sport and hope my support can maybe have a small effect on helping to change people’s minds."
Brarwin comes from a generation that is more accepting of gays in sports and in general and is perhaps making it easier for other closeted athletes to come out during their career.
"The first guy that does come out in the NFL might confide in some of his friends and it might spread and be accepted throughout the locker room," Barwin said. "And people would just get to know he’s gay and people will move on with football, the season and their life and realize it’s not a big deal at all."
Just last week a former NFL cornerback Wade Davis publicly announced he was gay and talked about how difficult it was to come out while he was playing football.
Several pro athletes have waited until retiring to come out, including baseball’s Billy Beane and the NFL’s Esera Tualo and David Kopay. Female pros haven’t faced the same obstacles in recent years, especially in pro basketball. One of the most notable out-athletes is tennis legend Martina Navratilovna.