If the FA are to avoid treading water on LGBT rights awareness within the English game, observing the benign punitive measure of a ban in Andre Gray’s case would be a mistake.
Nominally speaking, we should open the forum on homosexuality and English football with one simple question – why do we speak of a fight against homophobia rather than an open appreciation of homosexuality?
Sure, fear represents an initial obstacle, and fighting soberly for a cause is more palatable than revelling in one, but we mustn’t forget that homosexuality is a show of extroversion and pride with the shackles off – and it should be a celebration within football too.
Indexed within the stock of subversive behaviour and once attributed acutely to gay culture, the term ‘taboo’ carries attraction in its semblance of a perceived evil. Human psychology dictates that whenever we’re told something is wrong and should’t be uttered, enacted or endorsed, we’re that much more likely to contradict the protocol.
If irony has a place in Andre Gray’s ignominious example as a homophobe, the gay community targeted in his 2012 Twitter outburst represent the precedent for rule-breaking, defiance and an implacable dissent of coercion.
In short, the gay battle persists as one against greater society, while Andre Gray’s battle is one versus the FA – and denying an in-form player the right to take the field across the coming weeks can only leave Gray angry at those who’ve imposed the ban on him – even to the point where the striker feels vindicated in his homophobic tweets and sees them as a renegade gesture. And this is the last thing we need.
Without getting too carried away on the notion of taboo, we could do worse than entertain the hypothetical example of the FA asking Gray to wrap up in rainbow laces for the rest of the season as an alternative to time out. So there’s chance to put a positive spin on things – if the FA seize the initiative and bring more public attention to proceedings.
Indeed, the governing body should captalise on the increased familiarity around the player at large, seeing an opportunity to leverage LGBT awareness through his diametric public profile, however objectionable it is to many.
Just beginning to blossom in the Premier League, we know little of the ‘different person’ Gray purports to be in 2016 and, if the Burnley man is true to his word, why not challenge him to paint a rainbow across match-day attire – be it through colourful laces, a wrist band, or even a salutary nod towards the LGBT community in a slogan lying beneath the Burnley jersey.
Again, if true to his word, the sentiment of his official statement should entail further incentive in front of goal, motivated by the chance to lift his shirt behind it and reveal a moving token of support to the gay community, beyond the stonewall ‘apology’ of ‘to anyone I may have offended’ (and other such stock response fodder motivated by internal save-face pressures).
Sadly, there’s no chance in hell we’ll see such a brazen endorsement of LGBT rights on Gray’s part anytime soon. But the image is alluring in itself, with deliberate reference made to the ‘shirt-lifting’ colloquialism of Britain’s nearsighted yesteryear for the purpose of demonstrating how silly a euphemism it is.
Further, to think we’re otherwise arriving at a time where gay footballers are finally recognised as pillars of sexual freedom within a sport once blighted by steep racism and sexism, unearthing the caustic comments made by Gray just four years ago marks a step back.
What’s more, his inert ‘apology’ doesn’t altogether help the LGBT cause within football since it renders the topic latent once more, as everyone ‘moves on’.
Instead we all need to ‘move up’ collectively as patrons of the cosmopolitan game and celebrate its cultural diversity, doing so on grounds where an acknowledgment of the gay community in its most unabashed form is observed – rather than through the shunned identity ascribed to it in today’s game.
While the coming out of homosexual players would help matters, that process can only be expected gradually. But this shouldn’t mean we let up on sustained awareness, week in week out.