This post was originally published on page 14 of the 9th December 2013 issue of Cardiff University’s student newspaper gair rhydd. It won the annual prize for Best Long Form Article at the Cardiff Student Media Awards 2014.
In an emotional YouTube video posted last Monday, Tom Daley told the world of his relationship with another man. “Brave” and “honest” have been the two words most used in headlines to describe this news, and Daley is certainly both of these. However, the mere fact that these two words are associated with someone “coming out” exposes the residual prejudices that remain within our society.
In commenting upon Daley’s bravery we are also implying that one has to be brave in order to reveal their sexuality. Similarly through praising his honesty, we are implying that there is something that he has to be honest about. LGBT+ people, it is therefore implied, are required to reveal to the public at large, as if it is our business, personal information about their sexual preferences and attractions in a way that strictly heterosexual people are not.
The main concern for LGBT+ sportspeople like Daley is not that they want to be the first people to “come out” or that they want to be particularly known as a campaigner for LGBT+ rights (though many are). They have largely done it for their own wellbeing. They feel better for not ever having to hide, or be worried about being “found out”. Daley has come out on his own terms, and the video will bring a smile to anyone’s face as he talks in glowing terms about the man that makes him feel “so happy, so safe and great”.
Daley has been the subject of innuendo regarding his sexuality from the age of 14 when he burst into the public consciousness before the Beijing Olympics. In his YouTube video he references the fact that, despite being a sportsman, he has often been confronted with questions regarding who he is dating. It is evident from his voice and body language that the thought of not having to avoid such questions in future is a huge weight off his shoulders. The challenge Daley now faces is in keeping his relationship private. I fear that that his considerate attempts to keep his partner out of the limelight will only spur on the gutter press to intrude upon his life.
Daley’s disclosure is the latest in a small, yet significant, trickle of active sportsmen that have spoken openly about their sexuality in recent years. Daley follows in the wake of pioneers such as Gareth Thomas (Rugby), Stephen Davies (cricket), Jason Collins (basketball) and Robbie Rogers (football). However, there is a tendency to define a person by their sexuality in sport.
Rogers, for example, only spoke about his sexuality once he had left Leeds United to return to his native USA. He felt that it was “impossible” to be a gay footballer in the UK, which acts as a damning indictment on the attitudes within the UK’s national sport. A google search for Rogers, does not reveal a mundane Wikipedia biography of a lower league footballer, but a swathe of newspaper articles reporting on his sexuality. This only serves to highlight how, in the UK, we still view homosexuality as outside of the mainstream. This despite widespread realisation that this should not be the case. Rogers will be all too aware that it won’t be his athletic prowess that he is known for, certainly in the short term, it will be his sexuality.
Despite the barriers, I believe it will not be long before a high profile Premier league footballer decides to talk openly about his sexuality in a similar manner to Daley. It may take a respected and talented veteran such as Rugby’s Gareth Thomas to have the strength to do it, but conditions have become more favourable in recent years. Alongside the sportsmen already mentioned above talking openly- the Kick it Out Campaign that has made a massive contribution toward ridding English football of racist abuse has now turned its attention to homophobia. David Beckham, through his embracing of his status as a “gay icon” and rejection of “lad culture” has done as much as any heterosexual man could to change attitudes toward LGBT+ footballers. In fact, the Guardian has reported that 8 footballers have privately disclosed to Clarke Carlisle, chairman of the PFA (the professional footballers’ union) that they are gay.
The problem is that prejudices such as homophobia and sexism, do not yet have the social stigma attached to it that other prejudices, such as racism have. A casually homophobic remark will not turn as many heads within a football crowd as a racist one. Yet most would agree that abusing someone for their sexuality, or implying that their sexuality is of a certain nature within a negative context, is just as disgusting.
As Daley says in his video “in an ideal world I wouldn’t be having to do this video, because it doesn’t matter”. I agree, there should be no need for me to write this article either. Daley though has made his contribution to the steadily improving attitudes toward LGBT+ sportspeople. His video is an early step toward ensuring that the personal matter of any individual’s sexuality will no longer be headline news.
*The article was published before details regarding Daley’s partner were widely known. The knowledge that his partner is Oscar winning screenwriter and LGBT+ campaigner Dustin Lance Black, makes my concern for him in the article seem a little patronising!