Is the English Premier League Getting Closer to Its First Gay Player?

Antony HerbertAnalyst IIIFebruary 16, 2013

It now appears to be a case of when, and not if, a Premier League footballer will follow in the footsteps of Justin Fashanu by coming out of the closet.

The barrage of support being brandished about for such an eventuality is making it clear that teammates and clubs would support a gay player. 

Talk of marriage equality in the media and houses of parliament has been frequent, with a sway towards public acceptance of same-sex relationships and the rights these entail. 

Last month West Ham United player Matt Jarvis discussed possible reactions towards gay players in an interview with magazine Attitude. He insisted on the positive response a player would get from his teammates if they were to come out and what this could subsequently mean for the world of football. 

Others such as Gareth Southgate have been vocal about the lack of impact such a revelation would have in the dressing room.

Consequentially you get a growing opinion that within the game there are few who actually care. Instead it's a player's ability that becomes the first and foremost focal point. 

This week the revolution may have begun. Former Leeds United and American international Robbie Rogers has taken the step that many thought would not happen again. Rogers is the first English League player to come out since Justin Fashanu in 1990, in conjunction with the news that he is to retire from professional football at the age of 25.

It's not clear whether Rogers is quitting football due to his coming out, although he has stated that "now is my time to step away. It's time to discover myself away from football." It would be a shame if Rogers felt uncomfortable with the idea of continuing to play with everyone knowing his secret.

Is he fearful of the reaction from those around him?

The FA have been quick to offer their support, in the hope that they can change Rogers' decision on retirement, if it is only as a result of his coming out.

Since transferring to Leeds, Rogers has only played a handful of games, including a short loan spell at Stevenage. Niggling injuries may have caused this anti-climactic move to the UK, and may just be the reason why Rogers wants to focus his attentions away from a sport that his body has not been able to cope with. 

His decision to come out may have beneficial repercussions nonetheless.

England has made massive strides since Justin Fashanu's suicide, which many attributed as a direct result from the way he was treated after coming out. 

Rogers could be the catalyst that starts to bring football in line with the progress towards equality that has been gained over the past decade. 

In the biography I Am The Secret Footballer, the writer does suggest that it's the media and the fans who could provide a deterrent to a player wanting to come out and keep on playing. 

It's highlighted that the media has "no gay footballer to chew up and spit out." Sol Campbell is also used as a case in point to illustrate how a small minority of fans can retaliate. Homophobic chants as offensive as those used towards Campbell show that this small minority may not be ready for an out and proud player to be in the game. 

It's therefore for the FA to regulate the game in the same style and manner to which they have tackled racism. A zero-tolerance policy can be applied to ensure that clear instances of homophobic abuse do not go unpunished. 

What is just as important, is the helpful and positive response to Rogers' brave coming out that is required to ensure others follow in his footsteps and that of Swedish footballer Anton Hysen. 

As soon as a coming out becomes about as common as an Ashley Cole indiscretion, there will be no such negative reaction to deter those who want to be the role model that emerging players can look up to.