One Summer night in Miami I got traumatized. I’m pretty much open to all things, I like to think, unless you mess with my religion. I got my head turned forever, though. You don’t know who you are until you’re tested.
My wife and I were on vacation in Miami. My daughter and her boyfriend are seriously into dancing, so we all got dolled up in our good clothes and went out to Blue, a famous gay dance club, because it was Meringue night. Once we’d polished off three pitchers of Daiquiris, I no longer felt distracted by the sight of men necking and dancing. Out on the floor we all went, tripping the light fantastic to a couple of loud Elio Rodrigue bachatas. At some point, Elsie, my wife, began whispering something I couldn’t quite hear clearly in my ear.
“Thazyou gwokipo,” she kept saying. “Thaz you gwokipo.”
“What ?” I kept saying back, the trebly bass turning every peripheral sound into a wobbly buzz. “Say what?”
“That’s that goalkeeper!” she finally managed to shout into my ear. “The goalkeeper for ************.”
And sure enough, as I stared at the back of a shaved head and then looked down to see muscular forearms and, connected to these forearms, two hands inside the bald guys trousers, holding onto his buttocks for dear life, the sheer horror of it all began doing neurological pool hustler tricks inside my id. As they jerked and twisted around to the beat, I somehow sussed it before I saw his face.
It really was ************’s goalkeeper. Someone I admired tremendously. A player who had, more or less, won everything there is to win, and, arguably the number one goalkeeper in the whole world of football: The beautiful game! I felt woozy. I had to sit down and anesthetize myself further with a couple of shots of Wild Turkey. I’m certain I stared at him for the rest of the night, but if he did notice me staring, he sure didn’t show it.
Now I mentioned religion already. Frankly, I’m not religious in a traditional sense. Organized religion does not particularly appeal. I worship at the altar of my family. My only other true love is football, and I worship in a diligent, orthodox fundamentalist way. I didn’t want gay footballers on my radar. I wished the issue away.
The next day, according to the celebrity gossip columns in the two local newspapers, there were pictures of him night clubbing with his also-famous model ‘girlfriend.’ Anyway, again, I wished the issue away. It was not a big deal in my head one way or another until his form went bad after he’d supposedly gone to war with ************’s legendary coach over his ‘night clubbing.’ What happened to him next–once the famous coach decided he feared the power of the media and the affect of a scandal on his team’s dressing-room-unity more than losing one of the best goalkeepers in the world–was brutal.
After letting him languish in the reserves, ************ let him go on the cheap and his career seemed to spiral even further downward after he was involved in a spitting incident during a friendly in a Middle East country when he was playing for a big French club. Soon he was let go by them to an even smaller club as he became an emotional basket case, both on and off the pitch, and the subject of much malicious gossip and ridicule throughout the incestuous world of football.
Was the famous coach in the wrong? Homosexuality in the workplace is still subject to a huge amount of stigma. Certain professions like politics will turn a blind eye to such personal foibles and a handful of others wallow in them. Prejudice and discrimination, stemming from negative social attitudes toward homosexual males in particular, have historically lead to a much higher prevalence of mental health disorders among gays compared to their heterosexual peers, according to psychologist IIan Meyer. Meyer also points out that the working world has been ‘loosening up’ a lot over the last decade. Professional sports, however, particularly team sports, offer no refuge for anyone who chooses to be openly ‘different.’ Athletes who might otherwise be reasonably laissez-faire about other forms of hedonism involving sexuality take on a sort of Fascist mob mentality when their group is challenged from without or within (“The Health of Sexual Minorities” by Ilan Meyer.New York: Springer, 2006. pp. 202-205).
Consequently, the coach then has to think of himself as both an alpha male leader and the facilitator of group harmony through his beta-male lieutenant, the team captain. The rejection of rebellious, individualistic behavior among athletes was described by the anthropologist Edward Bernays as the psychology of the subconscious and its byproduct, Convergence Theory, which holds that groups, in and of themselves, will not have a conditioned response to ‘different” individuals (Crowd Psychology, Wikipedia).
Coaches rule in team games and they are the ones who bring in statutes and regulations to help elicit a conditioned response from the team toward players like our goalkeeper. It’s not really important who this player is. It is important, however, to understand that he very much typifies a certain kind of lifestyle that team athletes are forced to work together anonymously for the sake of emotional and financial survival.
Amidst all this psycho babble the thing that shows itself most clearly is irony. In a sport where individual flashes of brilliance transcend the ordinary, the notion of the collective soul clashes with the will for individualism that all great players own. This is the genius of the game itself, what Sir Alex Ferguson refers to as “the peaks and valleys of the team and the game when you manage to achieve perfection.” (Interview w/Alex Fergoson, “The Treble,” Documentary. Paul Doherty Productions, 1999)
Depending upon which survey you read, homosexuals number between 5% and 13% of any society. This means that there are, for example, at least 14,000,000 homosexuals in the United States. Can we then state with some certainty that at least 5% of all professional football players in the world are queer? Not necessarily, say some sports psychologists like Kenneth Murphy. Research shows that a good athlete is always a good athlete, by which I mean that in England a good footballer is, more often than not, also rather good at cricket and rugby; in India, a good cricketer tends to also make a fine player of badminton, squash and tennis; in the U.S., because professional athletes tend to be drafted out of college systems, athletes tend to really excel at American football and baseball. The incidence in Indian sports of professional players excelling in both team and individual sports seems to be an Asian anomaly.
Team sports in the West at least, it is easy to posit, because of Convergence Theory, tend to reject anyone who isn’t a team player. Therefore, cultural forces push most gay athletes to become practitioners of sports which are more individualized like squash, tennis, diving, Greco-Roman wrestling and boxing (The Sports Psych Handbook by Kenneth Murphy: Boise, ID., Human Kinetics Publishers, 2004, pp 112-114). Therefore, it’s absolutely impossible to know how many gay footballers are out there because they are literally forced to live like terrorists in sleeper cells.
Why is this? After all, according to a Transatlantic survey of male and female sports fans carried out in 2005 by Sports Illustrated magazine, 86% of the people interviewed felt that it was okay for openly gay athletes to participate in individual and team sports, even if they were open about their sexuality. Yet 63% of the same corespondents strongly felt that it would hurt an athlete’s career if they were openly gay. At the same time, over 90% of the people interviewed felt “far more accepting of lesbians in sport than gay men.” Ambiguous answers from an ambivalent public.
What are you supposed to make of it if you are a gay male? The one English footballer known to have come out of the closet, Justin Fashanu, was so vilified by the cruel Brit press that he went into exile in the United States. Shortly thereafter, accused of rape by a gay teenager, Fashanu returned home to face a relentless tsunami of abuse. Nobody could possibly have been surprised when he hanged himself. (‘Justin Fashanu’s Final Days’ by Brian Deer). And again I ask: What are you supposed to make of it if you are a gay male professional footballer?
Additionally, there is the fact of celebrity. Footballers play as a team, but the most skillful and the best looking are now celebrity superstars. To be a skillful pretty boy, like David Beckham or Theo Walcott, means you get the keys to the kingdom of celebrity. Footballers in England, Spain and Italy exist in the pantheon of the publicly beloved. They are coequal to movie stars and pop singers.
Football may have once been a working class sport and is certainly still played by hungry youth whelped on council estates, but most working class people can no longer afford a seat at Old Trafford or the Emirates, and so scrimp and save to watch games on their satellite dishes. Football is just another entertainment now, up there on glass teat for your entertainment just like WWF wrestling, movies and soap operas. As such, footballers are now part of what is called a WAG culture. Footballers are expected to date actresses, models and rappers, and then appear as a guest on the Ali G Show.
Chelsea’s star left back Ashley Cole is a fine example of this madness. Everybody seems to waste a lot of time and energy discussing whether he’s gay, bisexual or what. Standup comedians and talk show hosts constantly, relentlessly harp on poor pretty Ashley’s private life and the true status of his relationship with his model wife, Cheryl. And at the end of the day, when the ultra-hypocritical reactionary press sticks its oar in, it’s to criticize footballers for not being ‘role models.’
Finally, to close, let’s talk about Sol Campbell. He’s past his best now, but in 2001, when he left the club he had grown up with,Tottenham Hotspur, for their North West London rivals, Arsenal, Sol Campbell was easily one of the best centre-backs in the world. Built like a Greek statue, Campbell was fast, brilliant and ruthless. There had long been rumors that Sol was gay and he had always vehemently denied them. Spurs fans who felt understandably angry and betrayed when he left them for their local rivals began to sing songs about Sol with some of the vilest, racist lyrics I’ve ever heard.
He takes it up the crack.
Fortunately, Arsenal fans were loud, too, and the message tended to get drowned out at Highbury unless you were seated close to the Spurs’ bloc. Years later, though, now that Sol plays for Portsmouth, whose fans are relatively docile and quiet, the racist homophobia is clearly there for everybody to hear. Consider this lovely little ditty, set to the melody of ‘Lord of the Dance (“Spurs in Dock Over Abuse of Spol Campbell ” by Jeremy Wilson. Daily Telegraph 4 Oct. 2008):
Sol, Sol, wherever you may be,
You’re on the verge of lunacy.
And we don’t give a fuck,
if you’re hanging from a tree,
You Judas cunt with HIV.
Sticks and stones, you may say. It’s a free country bla! bla! bla! But consider, if you please, Sol’s older brother, John. His story was that a young man who was taking the same class as him at the University of East London, a proud Spurs fan named Mark Goldstein, kept singing those songs in and out of class and asking him if he too was queer like his little brother.
One day something snapped in John Campbell. He attacked Mr. Goldstein, breaking his jaw, smashing most of his teeth and kicking him unconscious. The victim was so badly injured that he had to have two metal plates inserted into his head to hold the fractured jaw together and was forced to spend months drinking liquified food through a straw.
The judge was not sympathetic to John Campbell. He was jailed for one year. Campbell’s barrister, Patrick Moran, had this to say: “My client has brought shame on his family and most ironically to his younger brother whose reputation he fought to protect.” (“Sol Campbell’s Brother Jailed For A ttack Over Gay Rumour” Guardian , June 4, 2005).
Editor’s Note: Football is a homophobic sport, and when you have people like Luciano Moggi making statements such as “there’s no place in football for gays“, you know that gay footballers will be prosecuted by their own, let alone the press or the fans. When humourous gay football photos are the only release to football fans’ collective homophobia, you know there’s some issues that need to be resolved.