Interview: To Be Gay And A Blue

CHRIS McKEON talks, anonymously, to a gay Blue about homosexuality in Cambridge sport.

Blues Gareth Thomas GAY homosexuality in sport jason collins justin fashanu

With the news that NBA star Jason Collins has announced that he is gay, eight professional footballers in this country have told the PFA the same thing, but say they are too frightened of the reaction of fans and the media to come out publicly.

Jason Collins - the first openly gay NBA player

Jason Collins – the first openly gay NBA player

Perhaps it’s not surprising they feel that football fans would not be the most understanding people, but surely in open-minded Cambridge our sportsmen would feel at ease being open about their sexuality? The absence of any openly gay men on Blues teams, however, suggests otherwise.

In an effort to find out why this might be, The Tab spoke to Liam (not his real name). As well as being a Blue, Liam is gay – a fact only a few of his team-mates, his close friends outside of sport, are aware of.

In general, he says, the attitude of his team-mates is a liberal one. “It would be naïve to think that casually homophobic jokes and comments are not made in the dressing room.” he explained “Certainly, in the past, I was among those making them. On the whole, though, the teams I have played in have been very liberal and discussions of homosexuality in sport have been pretty sensible and generous.”

Then again, playing with an openly gay team-mate is, for almost all sportsmen in Cambridge, a purely theoretical circumstance. Would things be different in reality? “I hope not, and I would like to think not.”

Despite this, he says he used to try and project a straight image. “Of course I have been on swaps and nights out with the team. I guess I went on those nights for a few reasons.

“Before I came out, this probably represented a desperate attempt to dissuade people from thinking I was gay. Maybe it even represented an attempt to convince myself I was not gay: ‘Go out, get drunk, go home with a girl, straighten yourself out.’

This, understandably, was a cause of some stress, especially if women came up in conversation when he says he felt obliged to contribute “some well-rehearsed line to divert attention away from my lack of genuine interest in the topic.”

So why not come out to the rest of his team, especially if, as he believes, there would not be a massive issue among students who are on most counts educated and enlightened?

It is not fear that governs his decision – he says that his fear was easily overcome – but “mutual apathy” or perhaps self-deprecation, as he puts it: “I don’t care about anybody else’s sexuality, so why should I announce mine to the world?”

We treat sportsmen coming out as a big deal and, more than that, expect them to act almost as spokesmen or leaders. That’s how Jason Collins is being spoken of and, despite his wish not to be seen as ‘a gay rugby player’, Gareth Thomas has often been interviewed as exactly that.

Gareth Thomas - Lions Captain and gay

Gareth Thomas: ‘Lions Captain’ not ‘gay rugby player’

This kind of thing seems to weigh on Liam’s mind as well when he says Cambridge is a difficult place for sportsmen to come out.

“The university is a small place, and sporting circles are even smaller,” he says. “Everybody knows everybody across sports and across colleges. More than this, playing sport puts you on a kind of pedestal and scrutiny of something like homosexuality is likely to be more intense. So there is no explicit discouragement of openness, but there is a kind of subtle barrier.”

Maybe, then, we make it harder for sportsmen to come out, both at University and in the wider world, by engaging in this scrutiny and expecting them to be leaders. If coming out entails that kind of pressure, from the media and fans, however well meaning, it seems perfectly reasonable that many would not wish to take on that role.

As for Liam, he says that he is happier now he has come out to his friends, who haven’t treated it as a big issue. “They simply do not care about my sexuality – which is the best response, I think.” Perhaps that is the response we should all have.