Amal Fashanu says she started her foundation to support gay soccer players in loving memory of her uncle, Justin Fashanu, who was the first British professional soccer player to publicly come out.
In recent months, the foundation has provided two letters to a British tabloid, each allegedly from an anonymous gay soccer player outlining the reasons why he’s afraid to come out, and each calling on the Premier League to do more to combat homophobia.
While the message is noble, the method seems exploitative. The anonymous letters fuel rampant rumor-mongering and reinforce the harmful notions that sports are unwelcoming towards LGBTQ people and that professional soccer isn’t ready for publicly out gay athletes. Most harmfully, they overshadow the inspirational stories of out gay soccer players and officials in the United Kingdom and around the world.
With each published letter, not surprisingly, Fashanu has been there to point to her work and her own organization as the key to equality.
This week, the Justin Fashanu Foundation provided an open letter from an anonymous gay Premier League player to The Sun. In it, the player bemoans the Premier League’s lack of progress on LGBTQ inclusion and says he’s afraid to enter romantic relationships.
The player also thanks the foundation for its support, saying it makes “living like this a little easier.” The player incorrectly calls the group the “Amal Fashanu Foundation” at one point in the letter, something neither Amal nor editors oddly didn’t catch.
He says he hopes to meet with the other alleged anonymous gay Premier League player who penned an open letter of his own in July, which was also released by the Justin Fashanu Foundation and published in The Sun.
That piece, which The Sun labels as an “anguished open letter,” details the alleged player’s hellacious closeted experience. That player also expresses gratitude for the Justin Fashanu Foundation — something it seems is mandatory in the letters planted by the Foundation — saying it has made him feel “supported and understood.”
As Outsports co-founder Cyd Zeigler has written before, the penchant of British tabloids to engage in faceless gay fear-mongering is not helpful to the advancement of LGBTQ people in sports. It’s sensationalistic and tawdry, and propels the seedy narrative that homosexuality is taboo.
The anonymous letters from closeted soccer players over-emphasize the pre-coming-out fear. Everybody who’s gone through the coming-out process experiences fear. But there is also great joy and jubilation in being out in sports.
The anonymous open letters don’t highlight any of that, focusing only on the fear.
In response to this week’s letter, over 200 individuals linked to LGBTQ inclusion in soccer wrote an open letter encouraging British tabloids to focus more on the inspiring stories of out soccer players. Published on Sports Media LGBT+, the letter lists six out soccer players and a referee and say their stories shouldn’t be overshadowed by anonymous figures.
“The truth is that there has never been a more concerted team effort to tackle prejudice,” the letter reads, “but its progress is hampered by such accounts and makes gay and bi people across the men’s game feel less safe and less likely to feel they can be honest and open about their identity.”
Over 100 individuals and 60+ organisations connected to #LGBTQ+ inclusion in #football have responded to recent media coverage about gay and bi male professional footballers, in an open letter. ⚽️ ️
Please share widely https://t.co/LzElUbxipL
— Sports Media LGBT+ (@SportsMediaLGBT) September 21, 2020
There is understandable frustration in the U.K. about the dearth of openly gay male athletes. The Premier League and other sports organizations must make more strides towards inclusion, and it’s always worthwhile to keep the pressure on.
But the anonymous letters of agony, as well as Fashanu’s comments, don’t address any of the positive strives being made as well, such as the Premier League’s partnership with Stonewall to promote LGBTQ inclusion.
Even the most recent letter includes a bizarre self-contradiction, claiming the alleged anonymous player is out and totally accepted by his teammates … but that it’s impossible to be out in the sport. Interesting.
Fashanu is trying to personally benefit from this game. In 2016, she claimed she knew seven gay Premier League players. This past May, she said she was counseling five gay soccer players, though only two of them played in the Premier League. No word on what happened to the other five.
In a recent interview, Fashanu kept saying she is trying to bring the two closeted players together, and hopes to achieve that one day.
“If they accept [and want to speak to each other], I think that’s a big step in their mental health as well as time goes by,” she said.
It’s curious the two athletes either apparently haven’t actually requested to meet, or Fashanu hasn’t gotten around to making the introduction. That contrasts with our experience at Outsports, where we’ve been telling the stories of out LGBTQ athletes for 20 years. Every person we’ve covered wants to be connected with other LGBTQ people in sports, often months or years before they’re ready to come out.
LGBTQ athletes want to meet people like them. We are all searching for community. Making those introductions is a priority for Outsports staff.
Fashanu’s furnishing of anonymous letters doesn’t build community, nor does it send the message that out LGBTQ people can excel on the playing field. She calls herself an ally, but her actions don’t build us up. She seems to be more interested in stoking fear and getting her own name in the papers than providing inspiration.