Justin Fashanu, a footballer from 1978-1997, was the first black footballer to be transferred for £1million. He was also the first (and only) footballer in the English Premiership to “come out” (in 1990) even though team mates apparently knew that he was gay. This happened after he heard a newspaper was going to reveal his sexual orientation and he wanted to beat them to it. However his career was marred by this event and he did not play professional football for six years afterwards (although he had a knee injury during that period). He finally committed suicide in May 1998 after the news broke that he was wanted for questioning by the police regarding a case of sexual assault on a seventeen year old male.
What makes it even more heartbreaking that he was publicly disowned by his brother, a retired footballer. Although his brother (John Fashanu) says he regrets pushing Justin away, he also commented recently in an interview that football is a ‘macho man’s game’ and he’s never heard of a gay footballer. Clearly, I missed the memo when gay men stopped being men altogether and became something else.
In the years since no other active footballer in the English Premiership has come out considering the odds are clearly in the favour of there being at least one (edit: Robbie Rogers, who played for Leeds Utd, came out in February 2013 before taking an indefinite break from football).
I always believe in standing up for what you believe in. It’s a shame that he was tormented for being true to himself. It’s an even bigger shame that he was not supported by his family during this trying period and yet those were the people he thought highly about so much that in his suicide note he wrote: I realised that I had already been presumed guilty. I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family.
He was listed number 99 in the Top 500 Gay and Lesbian Heroes in the Pink Paper, a UK publication covering LGBT issues (which closed down in 2012).A football club in Brighton against homophobia was named in his honor.