The chair of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) has revealed he has had recent conversations with eight top players about coming out as gay.
But Clarke Carlisle, who is a soccer star himself, says none of them followed through despite considering it.
The 32-year-old plays for York City as a defender as well as being chair of the PFA, the trade union for professional soccer players in England and Wales.
He made the comments in an interview with Britain’s Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN), published today (7 September).
Although the PFA has 4,000 members, there are no openly gay professional football players in the UK.
‘You know it is one of the biggest bugbears for me that no player feels able to come out and talk openly about his sexual orientation,’ he said.
‘We need to find a way of dealing with the anxieties of these players and then support them in a way.’
Carlisle then revealed he had ‘recent discrete conversations’ with eight gay professional players in his role as PFA chair.
‘Seven of the eight said they didn’t want to come out because they were worried about the media,’ he said. ‘Nothing came of our conversations with these players so I guess we are back to square one.’
He also indicated the atmosphere in the game may still not be right for someone to feel comfortable as openly gay or bisexual.
He said: ‘You have to understand that the use of language in football, in the changing rooms, between players and managers and of course on the terraces is at a pretty base level… so any player thinking about doing this would need to be very brave.
‘For me it is all about personal responsibility and doing what we can to change things. For example when I’m in the changing room now and I hear language that is unacceptable to me I will challenge it and hopefully that player will think twice about doing it again.’
Carlisle also said it would be ‘a good idea and a distinct possibility’ for his union to bring in a resolution condemning homophobia in football adding ‘it just needs somebody to propose it’.
Chris Basiurski, chair of the GFSN, told Gay Star News he understood why players were still hesitant about being openly gay.
‘It is interesting he [Carlisle] mentioned the press as being one of the reasons why they wouldn’t come out.
‘We think it is quite likely there are players who are out to their own clubs but not out to the public. We have seen times where [straight] players have their private lives made public and it can have an impact on their football.
‘Players’ careers are very short and they don’t want to take the risk as their lives will be a circus for a while.’
But he agrees that feeling free to ‘be themselves’ may make closeted soccer stars into better performers on the pitch.
Basiurski emphasized that a lot of work was being done to create the right atmosphere for a football professional to come out, bringing the day it will eventually happen closer.
‘I would still be amazed if it happens but there have been people talking about it for a number of years like the FA and there have been procedures put in place for what the game would do if someone did come out.
‘So they are saying “you are not there yet but when you are ready we want to be ready for you”.’
The only person to ever come out as openly gay in British professional footballer was Justin Fashanu who revealed his sexuality in 1990 and committed suicide in 1998.