Steve Davies’, the England and Surrey wicketkeeper, revelation that he is gay has been received with something of an indifferent “so what?” England coach Andy Flower has been quoted as saying “Steve’s private life is his own concern. It has absolutely no bearing on his ability to excel at the very highest level in international sport”. This refreshing nonchalance towards the young man’s private life is a change of tact from the issues surrounding Justin Fashanu, and the jibes footballers Graham Le Saux and Pat Nevin were subjected to for their interest in art and cultural experiences outside of sport. It brings us back to the fact that there are, according to the BBC, currently no openly gay footballers. The BBC cites Davies himself as being the only cricketer. Why is this the case if the attitude displayed by fellow professionals, is one of support and relative indifference? This must simply be attributed to a fear of reprisal, through chants or through the potential for rought treatment at the hands of their own team mates.
The benchmark for the ill treatment of a homosexual sportsperson, in Britain at least, is the story of Justin Fashanu, brother of ex-Wimbledon footballer and Gladiators presenter John, who spent time at Norwich City, Notts County and Nottingham Forest. He revealed, in an interview with The Sun newspaper in 1990, that he was gay during the later period of his career. This article handled the situation in a sensationalist manner, they ran with the headline “£1million football star: I’m Gay!”. The Sun perpetuated the popular stereotype of a single homosexual man, citing that Fashanu had sordid affairs with a Conservative MP, a pop star and fellow football stars to name a few. Fashanu’s tale ended in tragedy, amid allegations of sexual assault with a 17 year old boy at his apartment in Maryland, US; Fashanu took his own life. In his suicide Fashanu wrote “I realised that I had already been presumed guilty. I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family”.
Fashanu’s tale was a tragic one, and not one anyone would wish to see repeated. It is also one that makes the decision of any gay sportsperson to come out such a high profile occurrence. Why then has Davies’ been received so warmly? Davies’ coming out may well prove to be a litmus test for all future sports people wishing to come out, alongside that of Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas. Thomas himself felt that he didn’t give his team mates enough credit when considering his revelation as “they were very supportive”. We have ultimately progressed from the dark days of Fashanu being subjected to appalling press. Sports people in this age have a greater degree of control over their press, in the age of PR sports people may find it easier to avoid the tabloid ramblings Fashanu was subjected to and paint their own fairer picture of their lives. It is clear that as a society we have moved on, the acceptability that homosexual taunts were once attributed has passed, and that we as a public are willing to accept more and more the difference and wide variety in people as we are increasingly exposed to it in the 21st century. There is still some way to go, as a friend of Gareth Thomas wrote to him to say “The tide has turned, but we still have some way to go until we find the shore”. We still live in a society where people enjoy tearing people down; whether these comments be over race, sexual orientation or something as trivial as the clothes they choose to wear they do still exist. Any society containing individuals that can refer to the great actor Sir Ian McKellan as “Gaydalf” has the potential for a vitriolic outburst towards an out sports person and to treat homosexuals as second class citizens because of what is seen as their choice to be homosexual.
Ultimately we must look to move past this to a point where sports people don’t worry about what people may think, or say, about their sexual orientation, even still in some cases their skin colour, but worry about their performance on the field or the track. As Andy Flower rightly pointed out this (Davies’ sexuality) has no bearing on his ability as a cricketer, which is ultimately what all fans of cricket (and any sport) should be concerned about. The hope is that Davies proves that this has no bearing on his own personal future in cricket, but that he proves to be a role model for future generations and encourages more and more sports people to express who they truly are, instead of having to hide in fear of being “found out”, so that the kind of ammunition used against Fashanu leaves sport and helps us to move forward as a society. This step could then ultimately leave us in the desirable position of thinking about a great sports person and, and their performances, and not about their sexual orientation.