JERMAINE JENAS EXCLUSIVE: Footballers aren't preventing gay player 'coming out', the fans are

Last week's newspaper claim that two Premier League players are set to come out has gay has got everyone talking, not least footballers. Just like the fans, I've had the same conversations with fellow players and pundits over the last few days and been asked, "Who do you think it is?" But sadly for you, I'm not about to reveal their identities. I couldn't if I wanted to. No one I've spoken to has a clue who the players are, or if the story is even true. What I am sure about is that gay footballers exist, but I'm not surprised we still haven't seen one come out.

I have never come across a single player who has come out in English football, but that's not because of players' attitudes. The place a gay player would get the most support - and the least amount of problems - is from their team-mates. When you're in a football team you're in it together, no matter what, and every player would accept a gay team-mate with no problem whatsoever. This is something that has already been borne out in the rugby world, but the difference between football and rugby is what happens on the terraces.

Without wanting to sound rude, a rugby crowd is a bit different to a football one, and it's a fear of being abused at away grounds that most prevents footballers coming out. Football is a game where we still have fans meeting up for a pre-match scrap - we're talking borderline caveman stuff. You can imagine the homophobic songs that would rear their heads if a football player came out as gay.

Justin Fashanu's career stalled at Nottingham Forest after rumours emerged of his homosexuality.
Justin Fashanu's career stalled at Nottingham Forest after rumours emerged of his homosexuality.

When I was playing, just after I left Newcastle for Spurs, somebody somewhere started a rumour that I was gay. I'd play at certain grounds and hear certain shouts about certain things. It never bothered me, but it might have done if I really was gay.

Some of the things I heard about myself were hilarious. Apparently I'd come to London because I was dating Pop Idol winner Will Young, then I was going out with Sol Campbell. I think a lot of it stemmed from the Tottenham/Arsenal rivalry, because before I joined Spurs there were rumours about me signing for the Gunners instead. When I made my debut for Spurs, against Liverpool, I stepped onto the pitch and I got booed. I hadn't even kicked a ball for the club. I think it might have been because I'd been on Ashley Cole's stag do that summer and a few pictures had surfaced of us out drinking and having a laugh with other players such as Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick. But because I was a Tottenham player hanging around with someone from Arsenal, a lot of people didn't like it. So it was a bit of a "coincidence" that the gay rumour started after that summer holiday.

When I played against Arsenal, I'd take a corner and their fans would be shouting, "Ashley's boyfriend" - bearing in mind Cole had moved to Chelsea by that point so the fans didn't like him either.

I would just laugh about it, especially because when I was at Newcastle - and my wife won't thank me for saying this - I was pretty much a playboy. I was an 18-year-old lad living on my own, so obviously I had the best time ever. That kind of rumour would never have got going in Newcastle because people knew what I was really like!

Jermaine Jenas copped homophobic abuse while playing for Tottenham Hotspur
Jermaine Jenas copped homophobic abuse while playing for Tottenham Hotspur

Although the abuse I suffered was minimal, it did give me a small dose of what life could be like as a player coming out in the Premier League.

Now should a better time than ever for a player to come out because the game has changed since then. That's exemplified by the strides made in combating racism, which - while it definitely hasn't gone completely - has greatly decreased.

But it still wouldn't be easy for a player to come out as gay. Whoever does it first will be a pioneer, paving the way for others, and they may have to put up with some tricky situations - and just not from the fans.

For example, there are situations now where opposing players might have been involved - at different points - with the same girl. Footballers aren't afraid to bring that up on the pitch, telling opponents, "I did your missus last night" or asking, "How's your missus, by the way, is she all right?"

I can't pretend that footballers are all lovely people who will be on the pitch saying, "Well done for coming out. That was very brave." It's a cut-throat business where people are trying to find a weakness and get a reaction, so a gay player would certainly have to deal with that.

Robbie Rogers revealed his sexuality shortly after leaving Leeds United.
Robbie Rogers revealed his sexuality shortly after leaving Leeds United.

There would be banter in their own changing room too, but that's just part of football. My former Tottenham team-mate Robbie Keane plays at LA Galaxy with Robbie Rogers, who came out in 2013. He tells me the players have a bit of banter about it, and Rogers joins in, but it isn't remotely an issue. The players aren't really the issue; it's the rest of the game.

My main worry is that, if these alleged two players do come out and it goes terribly wrong, no one else ever will. The case of Justin Fashanu, who committed suicide eight years after coming out, still hangs over the game. I don't know if the two things were connected, but the way that story looks - in terms of the lack of support Fashanu received - are a lesson to us all. It's most important that if and when another player does come out, they feel they have the full support of players, the league, the PFA and hopefully their clubs too.

Unfortunately, I personally don't think we'll see a Premier League coming out in the near future, although I sincerely hope I'm wrong. It would be an interesting time for football, and it's an opportunity to gauge how much the sport has evolved. Because if we can't deal with that, it would show we're still in the iron age.

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