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Anders Lindegaard and the likelihood of silent gay soccer players

Nov 28, 2012, 2:31 PM EDT

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It’s all about context. For you or I to say soccer needs a prominent player to declare his homosexuality would be so mundane as to border on a truism. Oh, so you think it would be a good thing if players worked in an atmosphere where being open about their sexuality would face no repercussions? Please, tell me more about your epiphany. 

That we even use the pronoun “his” in this conversation shows how perverse the topic is. Among female players, the presence of homosexuals is a non-issue. Megan Rapinoe’s confirmation of her sexual identity only made waves among people who aren’t fans of women’s soccer. Hopefully those waves serve to highlight the fact that this really shouldn’t be an issue.

In the men’s game, it’s still a big deal. As many outlets have noted today, there hasn’t been an openly gay active male soccer player since Justin Fashanu (who played in the English First Division as well as for various teams in North America). Fashanu came out in 1990 and continued playing until 1997 (passing away in 1998).

David Testo is another exception of sorts. Last November, the former Montreal Impact midfielder made public the fact he was gay, but he also said his family, teams, and teammates were aware of his sexuality. It’s important to note: Us not knowing about gay footballers doesn’t mean they’re also unknown to their teammates.

Statistically speaking, it’s impossible that aren’t a lot more David Testos out there. According to a recent survey, approximately one in 28.5 adults in the United States identifies as gay, lesbian or bisexual, a number that certainly understates the case (many people are still reticent to be open with their homosexuality).

Per the numbers, there should be a handful of homosexual men in each major league. Even if you wish to posit homosexuals are less likely to make a living in professional sports, there should still be six-to-eight gay, first team players in each big professional league.

And there likely are. They just aren’t playing in an environment where being open is conducive to a long, professional career.

Which brings us to Manchester United goalkeeper Andres Lindegaard, who decided to take up the issue in a blog for a Danish betting site. His thoughts aren’t any more revolutionary than the mundane truisms we might overhear elsewhere, but the fact they’re coming from an active player at a prominent club make them newsworthy.

According to the Red Devils’ co-No. 1, the gay community is in need of a hero, and soccer culture (specifically fans, not players) need to change.

Here are his words, as distributed by the Telegraph:

“Homosexuals are in need of a hero,” Lindegaard said in his blog. “They are in need of someone who dares to stand up for their sexuality. But homosexuality in football is a taboo subject and the atmosphere on the pitch and in the stands is tough.

“As a footballer, I think a homosexual colleague would be afraid of the reception he could get from the fans, but my impression is that the players would not have a problem accepting a homosexual.

“The problem for me is that a lot of football fans are stuck in a time of intolerance that does not deserve to be compared with modern society’s development in the last decades.

“While the rest of the world has been more liberal, civilised and less prejudiced, the world of football remains stuck in the past when it comes to tolerance.

“To turn a blind eye only indicates that one is not recognising that there is a problem.”

Lindegaard fears that promising footballers could be lost to the game as a result of their sexuality.

“Of course there is a problem if young homosexuals, who love football, have to quit the sport because they feel excluded.” Lindegaard said. “That is in every way an unpleasant trend that does not belong in a modern and liberal society.”

Earlier today, we talked about the reception the U.S. Women’s National Team got in Portland – how so many kids see them as heroes for what they do on the field. It would be a naive to think the players’ gender has nothing to do with that. While there were certainly a number of children who just see the USWNT as awesome soccer players, the fact that they’re women soccer players make them icons in a sports world that could use more female representation.

Lindegaard brings up the example of young homosexual athletes who, like those kids at Jeld-Wen, could use some icons, if for not other reason than to help stay on course while navigating the trials toward professional career.

Soccer culture should be open to that possibility.

  1. schlom - Nov 28, 2012 at 5:18 PM

    Why does everyone assume that the percentage of homosexuals in sports is the same as the percentages in the general population? Obviously the percentage of homosexuals in the women’s team sports is much higher than 3.5% so couldn’t the opposite be true in men’s sports? By your reasoning there should be equal percentages of gays in men’s figure skating, Team USA women’s softball, Team USA women’s soccer, and the NBA yet we all know that’s not true.

    • Richard Farley - Nov 28, 2012 at 5:24 PM

      That’s not my reasoning at all. Within the piece, I even take a step back from the 3.5% number to say six-to-eight players per league. 3.5 percent in a 20 team league with 25-man rosters would be 35 players per league.

      • schlom - Nov 28, 2012 at 5:51 PM

        Sure, but you could also agree that it’s possible that the number is actually zero?

      • Richard Farley - Nov 28, 2012 at 5:52 PM

        You could, but that assumption is so statistically impossible that you might as well stay inside all the time. You’re far more likely to be hit by lightning multiple times today than live in a world without silent gay footballers.

      • schlom - Nov 28, 2012 at 8:25 PM

        Isn’t it also nearly statistically impossible that the NBA is 78% black and only 17% white considering that 72% of the population of the US is white?

        It’s certainly possible that there is no MLS player that is gay – simply because gay young males don’t play sports when they are younger. Whether it’s because they have no gay role moldels (which is going to be a problem that feeds on itself) or because they simply aren’t interested I don’t know. It seems like people are pushing for a solution for a problem that may or may not exist.

      • wfjackson3 - Nov 29, 2012 at 1:09 AM

        “Isn’t it also nearly statistically impossible that the NBA is 78% black and only 17% white considering that 72% of the population of the US is white?”

        Schlom, that is something that can be evaluated and tied to a variety of socioeconomic factors, trends, and choices. There are no such factors, trends, and choices available to explain homosexuality. There is no empirical evidence at all to suggest that the representation of homosexuality is significantly different in any professional field than it is in the general population.

  2. joeyt360 - Nov 28, 2012 at 7:58 PM

    I think Lindegard is right on all points. I suspect a gay player has much more to worry about from some psychotic homophobic fan than he does from the locker room. And you see the same intolerance issues in the stands with regards to race all the time.

  3. kjmlarsen - Nov 28, 2012 at 8:00 PM

    I believe David Testo also told Leander [I'd butcher his last name so I'm not going to try] in the SB Nation long form piece that Testo had been contacted by several gay active players since he came out. So yeah, they exist.

    • Richard Farley - Nov 28, 2012 at 8:02 PM

      Good shout on @LeanderLastNameNoFit’s story. Worth a read if you’re not up on the Testo story.

  4. mvktr2 - Nov 29, 2012 at 3:12 PM

    Good on Lindegaard for having this conversation and on Mr. Farley for sharing it. It’s worth discussing. I think it’s important because it’s extremely divisive within certain segments of society and effects a great number of young people in particular. 3% of the US population is roughly 10 million people, that’s not chump change and they matter. Per Richard Farley’s comment’s on Rapinoe in a different piece, I see her as a women’s soccer player whom happens to be lesbian. However for a 15 year old girl whom might be struggling with attraction to other girls she might stand as an important model that guess what, things are gonna be okay. We have no reason to believe our child is gay, but her mother and I both have gone out of our way to tell her that if she were we’d still love her with all our being. Point being this stuff is so confusing to young people and so divisive within society that simply talking about it is important on so many levels. (fwiw I don’t think it has to be discussed at every turn and in certain populations such as my Christian brothers and sister [I'm a methodist minister] spend too much time one it, but it applies here)

  5. mvktr2 - Nov 29, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    A couple thoughts:
    It’s very hard, I think, to find trustworthy numbers quantifying homosexuality within any population, nationality, or subset. It’s so castigated in our society there are going to simply be people whom won’t answer the question and others whom are so strong in favor of it they’re willing to influence the numbers a different way. I didn’t click on the link citing the 1:28.5 ratio, but where such a survey was conducted would have EXTREME impact upon it’s accuracy. I would think nationally it would take a sampling of tens of thousands just to get close given the difference of politics and sexual identity migration (yes sexual identity migration happens) between rural New England vs rural Midwest vs urban Southeast vs urban West Coast. Just a thought.

    Additionally (I was an art major, now a methodist minister) my own experience tells me that an overwhelming majority of homosexual men are more feminine than the general male population (most likely greatly impacting sports participation and I knew none whom participated in sports in HS), but that’s far from statistically accurate for anyone whom knows what a ‘bear’ is within the gay community (translation: ‘manly’ man). Conversely my college softball team (it was a historically women’s university with only female sports oddly enough) was comprised to my knowlege of 1 hetero girls, and the rest were all lesbian or bi. Had a good friend who played junior college softball and said she was the only heterosexual player on the team and she felt so uncomfortable she didn’t change in the locker room. For thousands of years we’ve known ‘apparently’ disproportionate numbers of homosexuals have been drawn to stage/theatre/acting. The point being iit’s evident to me that certain activities at certain institutions draw higher numbers of gay-lesbian-bi participants and logic dictates certain activities in certain institutions would draw disproportionately low numbers of GLBT participants. I’m not sure how much investigating has been done into it and I suspect it’s under researched because it ‘labels’ GLBT, but at the same time labels all of us. There’s a lot to learn!

    • mvktr2 - Nov 29, 2012 at 3:19 PM

      wow I need to proof read! sorry

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