A SMALL detail on the footballer Thomas Beattie’s CV is that he had a very brief spell at Kilmarnock FC, but it’s significant that at Kilmarnock, and at Hull City, and in Norway, and the US, he didn’t tell a single person he was gay. Even now, we still haven’t dealt with the relationship between sexuality and football. It’s time we did.

But first: a quick summary of Thomas’s story. He grew up in Yorkshire and signed for Hull when he was 10. He might then have stayed on at Hull and had a great career there, but he left, and played in America, then came to Scotland where Kilmarnock wanted him, then went off to Canada and lots of other places and none of it ever felt very comfortable for him and a big part of the reason for that was his sexuality.

But now, this week, Thomas has gone public, making him only the second male professional footballer in the UK to reveal he’s gay. Without doubt, it’s an important step for sport and for LGBT equality, but because Thomas retired in 2015, it doesn’t actually change the fact that there still isn’t a single out gay man playing in the professional game in Britain. There was Justin Fashanu in the 90s, but that’s it.

The fact Thomas has waited until now to talk openly is understandable: when, who, and if gay people reveal their sexuality is up to them, but the problem is that the football industry was, and is, unwelcoming for gay men. Watford’s captain Troy Deeney said the other day that every football team is likely to have a gay player. The fact that not a single one of them is public tells you everything you need to know.

The problem boils down to three parts: players, management, and the fans, and the pressure they are exerting, possibly unconsciously, on players to stay silent. Right across the game, people are making assumptions about what football is and what masculinity is and how the two interact and gay men are picking it up from a very early age.

Take the players first. Thomas Beattie says that when he signed as a youth professional with Hull, the senior players took him to a strip club as an initiation. The other players assumed Thomas would enjoy a strip club; they had assumed he was heterosexual. He also says he heard gay slurs in the changing room, although he doesn’t think the players were being malicious – they were saying it because they assumed there was no one in the room to be hurt or offended.

Management is also a problem. Thomas says there’s still an assumption that a gay player would disrupt the team, in the same way that the British Army used to assume a gay soldier would lead to the army losing wars because it was too gay. Thomas also believes that, because society generally is getting better, managers assume homophobia isn’t an issue in football either and therefore do nothing.

Then there’s the fans. Can we be confident that if Thomas had stayed on at Kilmarnock or Hull or any other team and had come out as gay that he wouldn’t have faced abuse from the fans? Thomas says he felt like society was telling him the world of being gay and being a footballer were enemies and if you’re a football fan, it might be worth asking yourself what assumptions you make. Have you ever thought, for example, that if a man is gay he probably can’t kick a ball?

All of these assumptions played their part in making Thomas unhappy and, although they don’t necessarily translate into outright abuse, they do the job just as well. You can’t be gay and a footballer. Being gay will be bad for the team. You’re a footballer therefore you love the ladies.

The solution is for everyone in the game to check their assumptions. Thomas puts it this way: be conscious of the environment you’re creating and whether it lets everyone feel included. When a new player joins the team, do not assume they’re straight. Maybe a few players will be offended by this, but gay players will feel more welcome and more able in the long run to go public.

Everyone should also listen to what Thomas Beattie says about the longer term consequences of football failing to change. “Do not fear the day where a gay athlete is wearing the badge on your shirt,” he says. “Fear the prolonged period of time when there isn't.” In other words, football could be missing out on great players, but even worse than that: as society and other sports progress, football is going to look more out-of-date on the issue of sexuality and – let’s just say it – homophobic.

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