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Glasswing Butterflies: Gay Professional Football Players and Their Culture

CASHMORE, Ellis and CLELAND, Jamie (2011) Glasswing Butterflies: Gay Professional Football Players and Their Culture. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 35 (4). pp. 1-17. ISSN 15527638

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Abstract or description

Only one association football (soccer) player in history has declared his homosexuality during his professional active playing career. Before or since that player’s death in 1998, no other professional footballer player has come out. The prohibitively traditional culture of association football is popularly regarded as being responsible for this. Fans habitually use homophobic epithets to abuse players. In recent years, England’s governing organizations have cautiously addressed this state of affairs, though ineffectually.The present study uses online methods to explore fans’ and industry professionals’ perspectives on gay players and the impact their failure to come out has had on the sport.The article, which is based on the responses of 3,500 participants, seeks to answer three questions: (1) Why do fans, who urge gay players to come out, use homophobic language to barrack players? (2) If gay players disclosed their sexual orientations publicly what effect would this have on them personally, on football culture generally and on conceptions of masculinity in sports? (3) What prevents gay football players coming out? The overwhelming majority (93%) of participants in the study oppose homophobia and explained the homophobic abuse as good-humored banter or, in their argot,“stick.” An unusual logic is employed to make this intelligible. Participants argue that an athlete’s ability to play football is the only criterion on which he is judged and his sexuality is of little consequence to their evaluations. Although few participants encourage forcible outing, the majority welcome openly gay players, whose impact would be transformative. Football clubs and agents are cited as the principal impediments to a more open and enlightened environment: participants argue that they pressure gay players to keep their sexuality hidden and so contribute to a culture of secrecy, which permits and perhaps commissions continued homophobic abuse. Participants speculate that the continued absence of openly gay players actuallyreproduces the apparent prejudices. One fan concludes,“The homophobia in football will remain for longer if no gay players come out.”

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: football gay homophobia soccer
Faculty: Previous Faculty of Health Sciences > Psychology, Sport and Exercise
Depositing User: Ellis CASHMORE
Date Deposited: 21 Apr 2013 08:03
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2023 13:37

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