During the Brighton Pride parade on Saturday, Paddy Power made a powerful statement about homosexuality in English football.
Their bus – titled ‘Official Bus of Gay Professional Footballers’ – had not one person on board, simply because there are no current openly gay footballers in England.
“As an official partner of the Brighton & Hove Pride festival, Paddy Power wanted to show the world just how much progress the LGBT community has made in the world of professional football,” they said.
“So we created the first bus just for gay professional footballers. Fabulous and fierce, with all the rainbow trimmings, and absolutely no one on it.”
The campaign has sparked an important conversation about being openly gay in the premiership. While many have come out in support of their statement, there have been those who have criticised the bus for being ‘dangerous’.
Stonewall said it was “unhelpful” and felt it would cause a “frenzy” of people who may try and guess which players identify as part of the LGBTQ community.
However, the majority of the social response has rallied a cry of support, and many people have offered encouragement to athletes, hoping that one brave player will step forward, live proudly and be an example for the next generation.
In the past, figures such as English publicist Max Clifford have advised stars to keep their sexuality a secret, and said their careers would suffer if they came out of the closet. So the support Paddy Powers campaign shows how far we as a nation of football fans have come.
The first professional footballer to come out as gay, the late Justin Fashanu, told Gay Times in 1991 that he was offered a considerable sum of money to stay in the closet. He also admitted that his career subsequently suffered “heavy damage”.
So, you can understand why footballers struggle more than any other athlete to openly discuss their sexuality. Hopefully the social support will quell their fears and make at least one player to proudly stand up and live as their authentic self.
Watch footage of Paddy Power’s Brighton Pride bus below.