Former England and Manchester United defender, Rio Ferdinand, has been speaking to a joint committee of British MPs and peers about online abuse in the footballing world. Among the topics discussed on Thursday morning was the issue of homophobia, where Ferdinand revealed that a gay male player who wanted to come out was advised not to by his lawyer.
There are still no known active gay male players in the English professional game, and the now pundit said he encouraged the unnamed footballer to take that leap.
“I initially said: ‘You need to come out and speak your truth and be proud of who you are,’” Rio began.
“The reason why the lawyer advised him not to come out is because every individual is very different and you can’t use a blanket approach. [The lawyer] advised him based on his experience with that individual, and he didn’t think that he was strong enough mentally at that time, and have the right pieces in place to be able to withstand the media attention and the spotlight.”
The former England captain reinforced that the attention on professional football is incomparable to many other sports, and is likely a reason why queer male players do not come out.
“The amount of eyeballs and the amount of attention and press pages that they’re going to get extra is so much more. It’s about, ‘are you capable of coming out and being able to withstand that media attention?’”
It is being reported that despite being deterred from the idea, the footballer has since come out, but it is not known whether or not he is still playing.
Rio Ferdinand has told MPs he recently encouraged a gay male footballer to publicly come out but that the player was advised not to by a lawyer.
— LBC (@LBC) September 9, 2021
This discussion took place in the context of a wider conversation surrounding the draft Online Safety Bill, designed to tackle online abuse. Football has seen an increase in racism from audiences both digitally and at matches, with Rio Ferdinand declaring it “baffling” that social media companies are not using their advanced technologies to moderate comment sections.
He explained the personal impact that the online racial abuse has had on him, saying “I have to sit there with my kids and explain what the monkey emoji means in that context.” Adding that he has “seen members of [his] family disintegrate at times when it happens.”
In many ways, the footballing world has come together to try and tackle these pressing issues, but it is clear that there is still much more to be done.
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