Megan Rapinoe: 'It's not safe' for elite male footballers to be openly gay

Megan Rapinoe for the USA during an Olympic football match

Megan Rapinoe believes that men’s football is not a safe environment for a player to openly come out as gay.

The two-time World Cup winner featured on the debut episode of the new Sky Sports YouTube show, The HangOUT, with Magdalena Eriksson and Pernille Harder, to discuss the chasm between the acceptance of queer athletes in the men’s and women’s game.

The series aims to encourage equality in sport and put representation of the LGBTQ+ community in the spotlight.

Eriksson and Harder are both household names on the pitch but are also leading role models when it comes to queer representation in football.

Rapinoe joined the Chelsea duo on the first episode of The HangOUT to discuss the comparison between LGBTQ+ visibility in the women’s game compared to the men’s.

Out lesbian footballers are supported and celebrated in the safe community that is women’s sport. Many players feel comfortable in sharing their same sex relationships and these couples have become role models for supporters also in the community.

However, even in 2022, there are still no openly gay male players at the top level of football. This has been an ongoing topic of discussion for years and one that Rapinoe has addressed.

“I think we get this question all the time, why aren’t there any out male athletes in the elite sport? Well, it’s not safe. They don’t feel safe. They either feel like they’re going to be abused [by] fans, they’re going to be kicked off teams, they’re going to have slurs thrown at them, whatever it is.

“So it’s not safe, and until it is safe, we won’t see any male players [come out]. I think it’s safer on the women’s side and we have a lot of camaraderie just between ourselves and a lot more people coming out, which makes it easier for everyone.”

Rapinoe is globally recognised for her work in promoting equality and tackling gender stereotypes. The US international and her partner, basketball legend Sue Bird, are also viewed as a queer sporting power couple who have inspired many around the world.

Similarly, Eriksson and Harder became role models after a wholesome image of them sharing a celebratory kiss at the 2019 Women’s World Cup went viral.

The two reflected on the iconic image two years later and revealed just how much it put them in the spotlight of the LGBTQ+ community.

“I kissed you, the picture was taken, and suddenly we just had 20,000 more followers on Instagram and Twitter,” Harder explained. “I didn’t get it, like what happened?”

Right after the World Cup, the two discussed the candid photo that made them the icons they are today and compared it to if it were two male players in the image.

“If you look at the photo from the World Cup and the support we got, imagine what a men’s player would have [got], it would be massive,” Eriksson told the Guardian. “But it feels like we have to break the norm before that happens, unfortunately.

“The men’s game has taken a different turn and it’s very difficult for players to come out. Hopefully when youngsters today grow up, the norm will change.”

Indeed, a stigma has been created that has made it extremely difficult for men in football to feel comfortable with their sexuality. The same year Eriksson and Harder were celebrated for their iconic kiss, a Twitter user claiming to be a men’s Championship player under the handle @FootballerGay, shared his intention to come out publicly.

However, he eventually reversed his decision, stating he did not feel strong enough to come out, before deleting the account.

Rapinoe stressed the importance of players creating a “welcoming and opening” environment for themselves, but also urged club owners, fans, and fellow players to take responsibility to create this safe space of support.

“If we don’t do anything about it, the wheels of injustice will just keep turning.”

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