Homosexuality has always been stigmatised in sport, particularly football, but there has been a giant step in the right direction on ‘National Coming Out Day’ on Monday. EFL referee James Adcock took the courage to publicly reveal himself as an openly gay man in football, showing that the game is starting to become a more comfortable environment for everyone.
There has been homophobic abuse shouted at football matches for decades beyond count, but this step from someone who is presently involved in the sport highlights the strides football has made in recent years. The fact that the 37-year-old official feels safe in talking openly about his sexuality says a lot.
Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Derbyshire-born official was fully aware of the stereotypes regarding gay people in sport, and of the lack of openly gay males actively taking part in professional football. It has been 10 years since he first came out to a select number of people, but he has now used his platform to try to help others. Speaking to the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast, Adcock said: “As I was going from part-time to full-time in football, some knew and some didn’t.
“Now all my colleagues know, and it’s just the norm. And, to be honest, there’s been interest from colleagues saying, ‘I’m proud of you James, that you’re able to be openly gay in sport,’ because they know the barriers that are still in place.
“They’re fully supportive and don’t change the way they are around me or the way they speak to me because they thought I was a heterosexual guy, and now they find out I’m a gay guy.”
The Premier League and the EFL have regularly teamed up with Stonewall to deliver the Rainbow Laces campaign in December each year as another way to get through to football fans how important it is to promote equality and show LGBTQ+ acceptance. Although he is a referee rather than a player, Adcock’s decision to go public could inspire a professional footballer down the line to have the courage to come forward and embrace who they are, and not have to worry about being bombarded with abuse online and from the terraces. He has become the first high-level male official to speak out on his sexuality since Ryan Atkin in 2017.
While it feels as though the wait between the two would suggest there has been a stagnation in progression, Adcock has viewed the current landscape as a safe environment to come forward and hopefully it will encourage others to feel comfortable with who they are.
“A lot of referees will think they can’t come out because it’s going to affect their progression within the sport,” he told the BBC.
“But you are not judged by your sexuality - and if you are confident enough in yourself, you’re going to have every support from every colleague, and it’s not going to affect you.
“To come out as gay or not come out as gay, you have to choose that as a person and not as a ref. But from the top level down, there’s not an issue.”
Hopefully it won’t be too long until a player currently playing in the Football League has the strength to come out as gay, because it is likely that we will see significant change for the better in football, and across sport.