Anton Hysén is the First Footballer to Come Out in 21 Yaers
Anton Hysén, a footballer in the Swedish second division, made the incredibly courageous decision to come out as gay last week. The 20 year old, who plays for Utsiktens BK, has consequently presented a great challenge to football: the challenge to prove that it can overcome its long history of homophobia. Hysén’s decision to speak out allows the football community to consolidate the messages of anti-discrimination that mark the game the world over.
Before Hysén, men’s football had only ever seen one publicly gay player: Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990, and faced widespread discrimination from within and outside of the football community until his suicide in 1998. He was charged that year with sexual assault on a false warrant, and dealt with homophobic taunts frequently throughout his career, both on the pitch and in the media.
For many years now, we as a community have been comfortable with the assumption that football is a ‘straight’ sport. Following the recent decisions by rugby player Gareth Thomas and cricketer Steven Davies to come out, we have heard calls for football players to do the same, but these calls have been met with a widespread skepticism as to whether gay footballers would be able to survive the homophobia inherent in football culture. Hysén’s announcement is forcing us to show that football can be as open and accepting a sport as rugby or cricket, imploring us to abandon the fiction that football is and always will be a conservative’s game. Football can no longer hide from homosexuality.
Hysén wanted his decision to inspire others to question the long-standing, often unspoken acceptance of homophobia in football. He told Offside magazine, “I might not play in the top league, but I want to prove that there is no big deal if I’m a footballer and also gay.” We hope that Hysén is joined by other voices demonstrating that it is backward and ignorant to assume heterosexuality to be the norm in football. On the absence of openly gay footballers, he said, “It’s totally sick, when you think about it. There isn’t a single openly gay, high-profile footballer out there. Where the hell is everyone else?”
‘Everyone else’ remains oppressed by the homophobia inherent in football. The treatment of Justin Fashanu by the press, the police, and the football community was hardly encouraging for gay footballers seeking to follow in his footsteps. Where Fashanu’s sexuality should have been a non-issue, it was used against him in the worst ways possible. The legacy of those events led to a period of more than two decades wherein homophobic attitudes from football players, staff and supporters have been met with little to no criticism. Indeed, homophobia has long been considered just another part of the game, and only now will we see whether this will to change.
Hysén is realistic about the possibility that he may find himself the target of homophobic discrimination despite his attempts to shift attitudes. “There will always be people who can’t tolerate gay people,” he said. “A club might be interested in me and then the coach might change his mind if he finds out I’m gay – but that is his problem, not mine.”
To continue to permit homophobic attitudes in football now that a player has come out would be the ultimate disgrace for a community that prides itself on its hardline stance against discrimination. It is a great shame that, in this day and age, Hysén should be bracing himself for abuse at all. “People can call me anything they want,” he said in brave defiance of the close-mindedness he may face. “It will just make me even more psyched.”
Hysén’s brother, Tobias, who has 15 caps for the Swedish national team, said, “Hopefully more people will have the courage to come out now after his brave decision.” His father, Glenn Hysén, who won the English league title with Liverpool in 1990, said on his Twitter page, “I am extremely proud of the boy. I support him 100 percent.” The encouraging support from the Hysén family, one of the world’s greatest football families, puts Hysén in a unique position to set an important example to everyone involved in the game.
Our eyes turn to the wider football community in the hope that such support will be mirrored and that Hysén will succeed in his aim to prove that we have no excuse for allowing homophobia a continued berth in football. As Tobias Hysén said, “If the reaction to my brother is positive, then other footballers can do the same.” It is up to us to show that we can react with the support and acceptance that Hysén deserves.