Following the news of Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo coming out as gay, we asked our very own
soccer expert Paul Mortimer to share his thoughts on the news.
Josh Cavallo: 'I'm a footballer and I'm gay,' says Australian player
When I initially read this a few days ago, I thought, fantastic for being so brave, this will really support those within football and life in general who are struggling with their sexuality. Then as I reflected, I read him saying he fought his sexuality, my mind went to considering why someone feels he has to suppress his true self in order to feel accepted.
The environment a budding footballer develops and exists in is a challenging one, conditioned from an early age to ‘toughen up’ and to ‘be a man’, to never show emotions which are seen as weakness, in fact you could say that football is about exploiting the weakness in your opponent, so exhibiting weakness is a definite no-no!!
So what happens to the ‘emotions’ these young men experience?
There are conscious and subconscious messages and cues received within the environment that inform these young people of what is acceptable emotional behaviour such as aggression and anger, and what is never allowed if you want to be the man you are expected to be, such as sensitivity and empathy.
So, consider this, you are competing for the golden ticket of a professional contract, in an environment where you are told to express yourself on the pitch, yet follow the rules off it, the mixture of messages can seem problematic, add to this the bravado and toxic masculinity that is prevalent in the environment, and what you are left with can be mentally and emotionally challenging.
There are so many more footballers, in fact professional athletes now prepared to speak up about the emotional hurdles they must navigate in order to function as expected by the masses, who gasp in surprise when said athletes show themselves to be as vulnerable as you and me.
But there is a bigger challenge for those who feel football society may judge them due to their perceived sexuality. Football teaches players to back their own ferociously, and they do, but banter, be it racist, or in this instance, homophobic, does occur, and often the excuse is that if their teammates sexuality is known, then the banter stops.
My question is always, why is it there in the first place?
Homophobic behaviour is about the culture and environment created, does it include those deemed as different, or does it punish those not worthy of acceptance?
And what are the Mental and Emotional challenges for those struggling with their sexuality?
Self-loathing, suppression, and denial of their truth, as they battle with their identity. This can cause destructive and harmful behaviours around things such as excess alcohol use and drug abuse. Stress, anger, and anxiety also prompt behaviour that may see people doing things to try to change the way they feel about themselves.
We have to consider why we have created an environment where Josh Cavallo is seen as brave and a role model for just wanting to be himself, just let that settle with you as you wonder what life would be like for you if you woke up tomorrow and had to hide who you really were, for fear of acceptance, this is the world we live in, ask yourself what you can do to improve this.