As reported elsewhere, including our very own Outsports (here is where I insert a mandatory “please check them out quite often; they do good work” shout-out for them), Hector Bellerin was featured in a Times of London post over the weekend in which he covers many topics that relate back to the player and, more importantly, person that he is. Naturally, the conversation went to his love of fashion, his feelings on his homeland, Catalonia, and his infamous hair. It was on the topic of his hair that he offered up this bit of information:
“The problem is that people have an idea of what a footballer should look like, how they should behave, what they should talk about.”
“It is impossible that anybody could be openly gay in football. Some fans are not ready. When it happened in rugby with the Welsh player [Gareth Thomas], people respected the situation. The fans respected his decision.
“In football, the culture is different. It can be very personal, very nasty, particularly for players from the opposition team.”
“People have called me ‘lesbian’ for growing my hair. There are other kinds of homophobic insults. I have learnt to grow a thick skin but it can affect you. Every now and again, you get a bit of self-doubt.”
“Some of it can get very abusive. Most of the abuse is online, but you hear it in the stadium, too.”
This, as you all should know, is incredibly sad and disheartening, and admittedly, deep down, you know Bellerin is 100% accurate with his comments. It’s well-documented that while Arsenal enjoy and benefit from the Gay Gooners, a supporters section that does many things within the local community in Islington that include awareness and appreciation of gay rights, their fans still to this day sing songs with homophobic slurs in them - especially during heated derby matches.
Fandom is inherently irrational using the faintest of guidelines, that it brings out tribalism in ways that humans should have evolved past. But, here we are. Because of this, people who would normally consider such a slur unimaginable in their daily lives use it with nearly-guaranteed impunity towards players and teams while inside a full stadium next to tens of thousands of other like-minded individuals, regardless of their target. This is beyond stupid, and it’s long-past time this sort of behavior stops.
But we’re talking about pack mentality here, and here is where I show my cynical nature: there’s no way this will be fully eradicated. Hector Bellerin is right. The chants won’t stop, the slurs will continue - with or without the Gay Gooners’ presence - and we’ll be left with an environment that’s toxic to certain people who are proud of who they are and feel free enough to not be judged for it.
I can at least ask of you, the readers, as a reminder, to please continue considering the words you use and that people from all walks of life should have the ability to lead their life as they choose fit. My wish is to be able to prove Hector wrong, so as you move forward from here be the kind of role model that encourages behavior that might one day be open and accepting enough to turn what should be a thing now - an openly proud gay player - into a reality.