According to former NFL player Ryan O’Callaghan, every US National Football League team has at least one gay or bisexual player, but they are afraid to come out fearing the possibility of losing sponsorships or even their place on the squad.
O’Callaghan, who came out as gay publically in 2017, said closeted players regularly get in touch with him.
“I can promise you there’s plenty of closeted NFL players,” O’Callaghan, who played for the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs from 2006 to 2011, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The NFL star continued: “I think it’s safe to say there’s at least one on every team who is either gay or bisexual. A lot of guys still see it as potentially having a negative impact on their career.”
O’Callaghan says that although the NFL has done “little things” in recent years such as sponsoring NYC’s pride parade, but has not provided players with sufficient resources.
“I just don’t think people understand the reality,” said O’Callaghan. “We can still get fired for being gay or denied services for being trans.”
“It’s going to take a high profile player who’s playing currently, coming out, to really make a difference,” O’Callaghan said.
Similarly, in the UK football arena, despite campaigns such as the Rainbow Laces project, increased LGBT+ support and programs supporting diversity in sport, there are no currently playing, high-profile players who are out to the public.
Thomas Hitzlsperger, formerly of Aston Villa, West Ham and Germany midfielder came out but only following his retirement in 2014. Speaking about coming out in sport, Hitzlsperger says that some people advise players not to do so. However, Hitzlsperger has said that they should “listen to your own voice”.
It is hoped that more high-profile football players coming out could serve as role models for LGBT+ youth and that their presence along with diversity campaigns can make football more inclusive of LGBT+ players.
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