Unnamed gay footballer 'advised not to come out by lawyer', Rio Ferdinand reveals

9 September 2021, 14:26

Rio Ferdinand reveals he encouraged gay footballer to publicly come out

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Rio Ferdinand has told MPs he recently encouraged a gay male footballer to publicly come out but that the player was advised not to by a lawyer.

The former England and Manchester United defender was speaking to a joint committee of MPs and peers about the impact of online racist abuse when the session turned towards the issue of homophobia in the sport.

Giving evidence for the draft Online Safety Bill, Ferdinand revealed he had recently spoken to a current gay male footballer about coming out in public.

"I've just met currently a player who has come out and he was advised by a lawyer not to come out and speak," the ex-Premier League star told the committee.

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Rio Ferdinand said he recently spoke to a current gay male footballer about them coming out
Rio Ferdinand said he recently spoke to a current gay male footballer about them coming out. Picture: Alamy

"I was initially like, 'Wow, why? You need to come out. You need to speak and say your truth and be proud of who you are etcetera."

Asked by SNP MP John Nicolson whether he could reveal the player's identity, Ferdinand replied: "No. Not now. It's not for me to say that."

He added: "The reason why the lawyer, which I now understand why, is advising him not to come out is because every individual is very different and you can't use a blanket approach.

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"Every individual is at a different stage of their life and understanding themselves, their sexuality, and he advised him based on his experience with that individual.

"He didn't think that he was strong enough mentally at that time and had the right pieces in place to be able to withstand the media attention, the spotlight, all of the different emotions that are going to come out, and pressures to deal with that situation at that moment in time.

"Initially, I was quite put back about the advice, but after being explained to by someone who's actually been that process, I quite understood it."

Prior to his revelation, Mr Nicolson told Ferdinand he had previously spoken with a former chief executive of the Football Association (FA), who had told him he "would not advise any footballer to come out as gay".

"His (the ex-CEO of the FA) comments were very controversial," the MP said.

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"I thought he received a bit of a rough ride and I don't think he intended to convey the message that some thought.

"I think he was saying that it just wasn't safe for footballers to come out and he said that he didn't think the FA could guarantee the safety of footballers if they came out."

The FA's director for equality, diversity and inclusion, Edleen John said her organisation was working hard to make men's football a more inclusive environment, and one a gay player would be comfortable to come out in.

However, there are still no openly gay current players in the English professional game.

Ferdinand felt the attention on men's football meant it was unfair to compare it with how many openly homosexual athletes there were in other sports.

"The amount of eyeballs and the amount of attention and press pages that they're going to get extra is so much more," he said.

"It's about, 'are you capable of coming out and being able to withstand that media attention?'"