Chris Sutton: Time is right for openly gay Premier League players

Thomas Hitzlsperger
Ex-Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed he was gay after finishing playing in England

Ex-Premier League striker Chris Sutton says there has not been a better time for a footballer to come out as gay.

Football Association chairman Greg Clarke told a Commons Select Committee he feared players would suffer "significant abuse" from fans.

BBC football pundit Sutton said Clarke's comments may create "another unintended obstacle" by suggesting football "was not ready".

"Once the first gay footballer comes out, others will follow," he said.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Sutton, 43, added: "There has never been a better time for a footballer to come out and say 'I am gay'.

"Fellow footballers would certainly be supportive.

"It will be the best thing that happens to the homophobia debate."

The former Norwich, Blackburn and Celtic striker says he would think "good on you, but do I care?" should a top player be open about their homosexuality.

"I'm convinced 99.9% of people would share the same view, so are we now setting the levels based on how the 0.1% would react?" he said.

"Home fans would be supportive of a player, some away supporters wouldn't."

Sutton added that any offensive chanting is "one too many", but questioned whether it was any worse than small groups of fans taunting each other about tragedies associated with their respective clubs.

Former Nottingham Forest striker Justin Fashanu became the first player in England to come out as gay in 1990, but took his own life aged 37 in 1998. No male professional player has come out while playing in England since.

Former Germany and Aston Villa player Thomas Hitzlsperger became the first player with Premier League experience to publicly reveal his homosexuality, in January 2014, after he had finished playing in England.

Former England women's captain Casey Stoney was the first active footballer to come out in England since Fashanu, in February 2014.

From his own experience of professional football dressing rooms, Sutton believes any gay player would find "unwavering support" from their team-mates.

"Gentle teasing might be as far as it went," he added. "Anything else would be bullying and team-mates would step in and stop it. That's how it works."

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