Unnamed Premier League footballer reveals he is gay in letter but says he can't go public

11 July 2020, 13:08 | Updated: 11 July 2020, 16:38

An unnamed Premier League footballer has revealed he is gay in an open letter, but isn't prepared to come out publicly.

The star has opened up about the torment of keeping his sexuality a secret and has aimed the letter at authorities and fans, describing how he is taking a "huge step" in revealing his sexuality.

In a letter which has been shared with Sky News by the Justin Fashanu Foundation, the player writes: "I am gay. Even writing that down in this letter is a big step for me.

"But only my family members and a select group of friends are aware of my sexuality. I don't feel ready to share it with my team or manager."

The player also talks about how his sport isn't yet "ready for a player to come out" and how "the game would need to make radical changes" in order for him to feel able to reveal his identity.

He goes on to say: "How does it feel having to live like this? Day-to-day, it can be an absolute nightmare. And it is affecting my mental health more and more.

"I feel trapped and my fear is that disclosing the truth about what I am will only make things worse."

The unknown star is being supported by the Justin Fashanu Foundation, which is run by the former footballer's niece, Amal.

Justin Fashanu, who played for top flight clubs from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s, was the first professional footballer to be openly gay.

Ms Fashanu says there are no openly gay or bisexual male professional footballers in the country at present and this revelation was a "significant moment and a positive step forward" in tackling this issue.

She told Sky News: "The fact this player wanted to write a letter about this is a huge step forward. We haven't seen anything close to this in the Premier League for years.

"I know it's a hard thing to do, it's near impossible, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully more footballers and other sports stars can come forward after this and we'll be there to support them."

Justin Fashanu played for Notts County and West Ham, but tragically took his own life after being accused of sexual assault in 1998.

The unidentified player criticises the Professional Footballers Association, the trade union for players, on its approach to managing the situation.

He said: "The Professional Footballers Association say they are ready to help a player to come out. And they have said they will offer counselling and support to anyone who needs it.

"This is missing the point. If I need a counsellor I can go and book in a session with one whenever I want."

In a direct message to authorities "running the game", he said: "What those running the game need to do, is educate fans, players, managers, agents, club owners - basically everyone involved in the game.

"If I was to make that step I'd want to know that I would be supported at each step of my journey. Right now, I don't feel I would be."

In a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee hearing on 7 July, former England women's team footballer Eniola Aluko said gay male footballers wouldn't risk coming out in the public domain because of the homophobic backlash they would face.

She said there are current footballers who have told their teammates they are gay, but added: "The issue really now is that fear of what fans will do and are going to say, but I don't think that is as legitimate a fear as it used to be because we're living in a world now where being gay is something that is widely accepted."

The director of women's football at Aston Villa also spoke about how there is a "distinction" between female and male footballers coming out, with more of a "respect in terms of sexuality" in the women's game.

The full letter is below:

As a kid, all I ever wanted to be was a footballer.

I wasn't interested in doing well at school. Instead of doing homework, every spare minute I had was spent with a ball.

In the end it paid off. But even now I still have to pinch myself when I run out and get to play each week in front of tens of thousands of people.

However there is something that sets me apart from most of the other players in the Premier League.

I am gay. Even writing that down in this letter is a big step for me. But only my family members and a select group of friends are aware of my sexuality. I don't feel ready to share it with my team or my manager. That's hard. I spend most of my life with these guys and when we step out on the pitch we are a team. But still, something inside me makes it impossible for me to be open with them about how I feel. I dearly hope one day soon I will be able to.

I've known since I was about 19 that I was gay.

How does it feel having to live like this?

Day-to-day, it can be an absolute nightmare. And it is affecting my mental health more and more. I feel trapped and my fear is that disclosing the truth about what I am will only make things worse.

So, although my heart often tells me I need to do it, my head always says the same thing: "Why risk it all?"

I am lucky enough to earn a very good wage. I have a nice car, a wardrobe full of designer clothes and can afford to buy anything I want for my family and friends. But one thing I am missing is companionship. I am at an age where I would love to be in a relationship. But because of the job I do the level of trust in having a long-term partner has to be extremely high.

So, at the moment, I avoid relationships at all. I dearly hope I will soon meet someone who I think I will be able to trust enough. The truth is I just don't think football is ready yet for a player to come out. The game would need to make radical changes in order for me to feel able to make that step.

The Professional Footballers Association say they are ready to help a player to come out. And they have said they will offer counselling and support to anyone who needs it. This is missing the point. If I need a counsellor I can go and book a session with one whenever I want. What those running the game need to do is educate fans, players, managers, agents, club owners - basically everyone involved in the game. If I was to make that step I'd want to know that I would be supported at each step of my journey. Right now, I don't feel I would be.

I wish I didn't have to live my life in such a way. But the reality is there is still a huge amount of prejudice in football. There are countless times I've heard homophobic chants and comments from supporters directed at no one in particular.

Strangely it doesn't really bother me during the matches. I am too focused on playing. It's when I get back on the plane or the coach and I have time to think that it gets to me. As things stand, my plan is to carry on playing for as long as I feel able to and then come out when I have retired. It was great last month to see Thomas Beattie raise his hand and admit to being gay. But the fact he had to wait until retirement tells you all you need to know. Footballers are still too scared to make the step while they are playing.

For the past year I have been getting support from the Justin Fashanu Foundation, not least to cope with the toll this is all having on my mental health. It is hard to put into words how much the foundation has helped. It has made me feel supported and understood as well as giving me the confidence to be more open and honest with myself especially. Without that support I really don't know where I'd be now. I know it might get to the point where I find it impossible to keep living a lie. If I do, my plan is to retire early and come out. I might be throwing away years of a lucrative career. But you can't put a price on your peace of mind.

And I don't want to live like this forever.