Casey Stoney: Homosexuality in sport should not be an issue

Casey Stoney

England and Lincoln Ladies captain Casey Stoney will be writing regular columns for the BBC Sport website during the coming season.

The recent news about male sports stars coming out as gay has made me think that things are moving in the right direction regarding homophobia in sport.

NBA basketball star Jason Collins is still playing and declared his sexuality this week, while former Leeds winger Robbie Rogers revealed he was gay in February.

The disappointing aspect for me was that Rogers felt he had to retire to do that, which is perhaps a reflection of the problems that still exist in the game on this issue.

Homophobia was rife in society not so long ago, but I believe the man and the woman on the street have changed their thought processes - and it is time football caught up, especially the men's game.

It's time prehistoric attitudes changed.

Having spoken to a lot of male professional players, the one issue that keeps cropping up is the amount of grief an openly gay player might get from fans.

Supporters will use pretty much anything to put a player off their game so I think it is that fear, more than anything, that is stopping a player coming out while they are still playing.

I just hope Collins and Rogers are setting an example for others to follow. Who knows what can happen then?

It's a completely different world in women's football and, dare I say, more grown-up.

Being gay is not a problem and never has been. Players just don't experience the same fears as they do in the men's game.

Admittedly, we don't perform in front of the same crowds as the men's game and there are not 40,000 people hurling abuse at you because of your sexuality. Women's football has never been as high profile as men's either, so the media scrutiny is less intense too.

Hopefully, the women's game will get to a point where we have that many fans in the ground, but being gay still won't be a problem.

On average there have been one or two gay players in most teams I have played for, up to three in some, but it's not caused any trouble.

A person's sexuality is never at the forefront of anybody's agenda or thought processes anyway, so it's just been about what they do on the pitch and what sort of person they are, not who they are going with.

I've been in teams in the past where there may have been a relationship between players in the same team, although you never really know because it is their private life - but, again, it's never caused any divisions.

I'm not saying everybody in women's football is out and open about their sexuality because you don't know if they are not. But those who are seem perfectly comfortable just having normal conversations about their lives and their partners and what they are doing on a Saturday night, just like every other person in a workplace or team.

In my experience, being gay isn't kept a secret but it's not a case of announcing it as soon as you meet someone. As you grow as a team, you get to know people and they become your friends and you get to know more about their background and their personal lives.

That's normally how you find out things with anyone, anywhere. If you think about it, it's pretty common behaviour - but not, it seems, in men's football.

The responsibility does not lie only with the players.

As a fan, just because you have paid £900 for a season ticket, it doesn't give you the right to abuse someone from the stands.

Clubs also have a responsibility to take a stance on it themselves, especially Premier League clubs. I know recently there was the Football v Homophobia campaign and it was disappointing to hear that some clubs almost refused to take part in that.

It shouldn't matter whether you are straight or gay, you should still back the programme and it's the same with racism; the Kick it Out campaign doesn't lack for support so I would like to see the same stance with homophobia as well.

While I can sympathise with a player not wanting to come out, I also agree with those people who suggest that a player's performance can be hindered by keeping their sexual identity secret.

If you are not living your life in the way you want to, or living in a world where you don't feel like you belong and you are pretending to be something that you are not, that must affect you as an individual.

So I can only imagine it must impact you when you are walking on to the pitch and taking all those feelings with you.

Unfortunately, when faced with the choice of keeping a secret or getting abuse from 40,000 people sitting in the stands, players are probably going to keep quiet.

It's a real sad state of affairs and it's sad for the players who feel like they have to live their lives that way. You only get one life and you have to try and live it the best you can and be happy because you don't get a second shot at it.

I'm really hopeful that men's football can go the same way as women's football on this issue.

How long will it take for an active male player to come out? Time will tell. But hopefully with an NBA player and Rogers coming out, it just depends on the next person taking that brave step.

Casey Stoney was talking to BBC Sport's Alistair Magowan.