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28 February 2011

Why Steven Davies could be the tipping point for gay sportsmen

The England wicketkeeper’s decision could help break down the last taboo in sport.

By Duncan Robinson

It shouldn’t be news. In 2011, the headline “Sportsman reveals himself to be homosexual” should not provoke oceans of coverage. But it has. The reason for that is simple. Steven Davies, the England wicketkeeper, is only the third professional British sportsman to come out of the closet in the past two decades.

Prior to Davies, the Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas was the only openly gay top-flight sportsman in the UK. The footballer Justin Fashanu came out in 1990 and suffered nearly a decade of abuse before killing himself in 1998. Since then, no professional footballer has dared to reveal himself to be homosexual. It is the last taboo in sport.

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Some might dismiss Davies’s decision as easy, due to the genteel nature of the sport he plays. They are wrong. Yes, it is difficult to imagine crowds at the Oval erupting in homophobic chants, but sledging in cricket knows few limits. If someone’s marital problems or mental issues are fair game, then it’s likely their sexuality is, too.

Going on tour in South Africa and the Indian subcontinent – hardly bastions of tolerance for homosexuality – could also prove challenging. His career would no doubt be easier without the stigma of being the only gay man in the sport, which makes his decision incredibly brave.

But his bravery is not what makes his decision important. Davies’s decision could well prove the tipping point for male homosexuality in top-class sport.

The critical thing about his coming out is the fact that he is a young, talented – but not great – player. When Thomas came out he had established himself as one of the best players Wales had ever produced, with 100 caps. (Plus, he was a 6ft 3in, 16-stone lump of muscle and could have happily beaten any homophobe into a hateful pulp.)

Davies, however, is 24 and has yet to establish himself as an England regular. Prior to his announcement, he had, in fact, just been dropped. He was not riding a wave of goodwill from a superb Ashes performance. Nor does he have a century of caps or a sackload of winner’s medals to point to in a knee-jerk response to bigots.

Davies is simply a young, promising player with his career ahead of him – yet he felt confident enough to become England’s only gay cricketer. If he can do it, then so can any other gay sportsman. He could well have dealt a fatal blow to the last taboo in sport.