LGBT+ History Month: Ex-footballer Thomas Beattie says he would not come out if still playing

How coming out changed footballer Thomas Beattie's life

Former Hull City youth player Thomas Beattie, who announced he was gay last year after retirement, says he would not come out if he was still playing.

Beattie, who spent his career in Canada and Singapore, was the first UK-born male professional footballer to come out since Justin Fashanu in 1990.

He was forced to retire aged 29 after a life-threatening head injury in 2015.

"I wouldn't have come out if I was still playing now," Beattie told BBC Sport.

"The reason is the same reason most people aren't coming out now - we are still trying to redefine what masculinity is and that's a big issue in sport."

Beattie, 34, said other industries - such as music, film and fashion - were more welcoming for the LGBT+ community because they often have a broader view of masculinity and sexuality.

"Football is a very physical, robust, aggressive sport, so any attack on your masculinity feels like it's a dig on your ability to perform," he said.

"I know some of the most 'feminine' straight guys and some of the most 'masculine' gay guys and it has no bearing on your ability to perform as a footballer or do anything else."

More 'repercussions' for homophobic abuse needed

Beattie said he struggled to accept his sexuality for a long time because he did not see examples of LGBT+ people he could "resonate" with and that it would have been easier had he "lived in a world that was more open".

He added that football will progress if "there are more examples of people from the LGBT+ community that aren't stereotypically what we've seen in the media" in the sport and a wider definition of masculinity becomes accepted.

Several top-level players, including former Germany midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger and Americans Robbie Rogers and Collin Martin, have come out as gay since Fashanu, who took his own life in 1998.

However, Beattie said it is "more likely" the next openly gay player at the elite level will be someone who comes out in the youth system and goes on to represent a top-flight club.

"Even that path would be difficult right now and still unlikely, but it's more likely that someone in the Premier League coming out," he added.

He said "there is a lot of pressure" and that even as a retired player he received "overwhelming" attention, while "everything now is even more under a microscope" because of social media.

But he said there are measures football can take to "create a more conducive, accepting environment" including football authorities making clearer "guidelines" on tolerance of LGBT+ people in the sport and stronger "repercussions" for supporters who shout homophobic slurs in the stands.

He added football can "lead the way in influencing" and "be a beacon" for society in terms of wider LGBT+ acceptance.

Thomas Hitzlsperger: The past seven years have been a fantastic journey

Footballers are 'open to difference'

Beattie recalled realising he was "different" when he felt "uncomfortable" after being taken to a strip club with his Hull youth side team-mates.

However, he "didn't really experience" many homophobic remarks being made in dressing rooms and said footballers are generally "quite open to difference" because they play alongside many people of different ethnicities and religions.

He said coming out was "liberating" and he was "on a high" for two months, while he also received messages of support from nearly all his former team-mates, some of whom wanted to learn more about the LGBT+ community.

Sportspeople who are not openly gay have also contacted Beattie for advice and he said he tells them "don't rush, take your time and don't feel pressured by anyone".

Top Stories

Elsewhere on the BBC

Also in Sport