Footballers have come out as gay to teammates but fear public backlash, says Eni Aluko

Jack de Menezes
·4-min read
Eni Aluko says there are footballers who have come out to teammates but not in public: PA
Eni Aluko says there are footballers who have come out to teammates but not in public: PA

Former England Women footballer Eniola Aluko says there are footballers who have told their teammates that they are gay, but remain too afraid of the backlash that they would face if they were to come out in public.

Aluko, the current director of women’s football at Aston Villa, spoke on Tuesday to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee regarding the current levels of diversity across football, both in the men’s and women’s game.

Her experiences drew on the current difficulties that people of a Black, Asian and minority ethnic background face within the sport, but the 102-cap international was also asked about the trouble that homosexual players face over the decision to come out publicly.

There has not been a single Premier League player who has come out at gay while still playing in the top flight of English football, with the late Justin Fashanu coming out in 1990 during his career while in lower-league football and German Tomas Hitzlsperger only revealing that he is homosexual after he had called time on his career in 2014. In stark contrast, a number of female players are openly gay in the Women’s Super League, where Aluko points out homosexuality is far more accepted among fans both at games and on social media.

But Aluko said that there are current footballers in England who have already told their teammates that they are gay, but will not announce it publicly because they fear the backlash that will come from fans and on social media.

Asked to clarify the statement by Labour MP Clive Effort at a DCMS select committee hearing into the impact of Covid-19, Aluko said: “Yes that’s right.

“I think there’s been rumours and all sorts of newspapers that try to get the exclusive on who this player may be.

“Ultimately I think there’s statistics that say of course there would be gay players, and I think the beauty of it is actually 99.9 per cent of players would say ‘I wouldn’t care if my teammate was gay’. The issue really now is that fear of what fans will do and are going to say, but I don’t think that is as legitimate a fear as it used to be because we’re living in a world now where being gay is something that is widely accepted. Yes, you will be subjected to abuse on social media as women are, as black people are – there’s so much – but I do think now let’s say if a current Premier League player comes out as gay they will be widely praised, applauded, lauded and respected.”

Eni Aluko says there are footballers who have come out to teammates but not in public (DCMS)
Eni Aluko says there are footballers who have come out to teammates but not in public (DCMS)

Aluko believes that the recent action taken by Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford to use his platform for those less well-off – with the England star successfully campaigning for the government to U-turn on their decision to end free school meal vouchers – as well as the powerful stance against racism by all Premier League footballers, shows that doing footballers are able to force change in today’s society.

As a result, she hopes that any footballer who elects to come out publicly will help to inspire others who find themselves in a similar situation, where they may end up being put off football because of the stigma and stereotypes that currently exist in the sport.

“I use the analogy of what’s happening now with players who are using their voice against racism, they are being applauded, clapped up and praised because they are using their voice and using their platform,” Aluko added.

Aluko believes players like Rashford are showing young children that football is open to all (Getty)
Aluko believes players like Rashford are showing young children that football is open to all (Getty)

“The impact that has, there’s going to be so many little Marcus Rashfords in Manchester that are totally inspired by what he did the other week – young boys who probably felt there’s not much going for me in life who are now inspired by Marcus Rashford in the same way that a gay Premier League player coming out or a gay player coming out around the world who is currently playing, that will have a huge impact on a young gay boys who may like football, who feel ‘I can’t play football’ because of all the stereotypes around playing football.

“I personally look forward to that and I think the impact will be hugely positive.”