Here We Go again: Where Are All the Gay Footballers?

Kate Connolly writes in the Guardian:

A leading German footballer has urged gay players to come out and called for a radical rethink about homosexuality in the sport.

The Bayern Munich striker Mario Gomez has broken ranks with the football establishment, including members of his own team and the German football federation, who have warned that coming out could destroy a player's career.

But Gomez, who has not said whether he is gay, told a German magazine that being honest about their sexuality would improve gay players' performance.


There are no openly gay players in Germany's Bundesliga, reflecting the situation across the football world, although it is estimated that about 10% of players are gay.

The only German footballer to have come out is Marcus Urban, who told his teammates in 1997 and promptly ended his professional career. The 39-year-old waited until 2007 before going public with his story, saying he had hoped to encourage other gay players and trainers to come out and thus contribute to more acceptance and tolerance in football.

Gomez is the first leading player to urge his homosexual colleagues to go public. Others have been vehemently against such a move, saying it would harm a footballer's career.

In an interview this year, Tim Wiese, who plays in goal for the national team and Werder Bremen, advised gay players against coming out, saying they would be "destroyed" by "merciless fans".

"Despite the fact that it now has lots of female fans, football is still a macho sport," he said.

Philipp Lahm, a defender for Bayern Munich who captained the German team at the World Cup in South Africa, told Playboy magazine in an interview that players would be unable to cope with the pressure of outing themselves. "A player who chooses to out himself has to carry out his job in front of tens of thousands of spectators."

The German football federation (DFB) said that while it was campaigning against homophobia in football and would support any player who chose to come out, it could not ignore the problems that would accompany such a decision.

"The first homosexual who outs himself in professional football will not have an easy time of it," said DFB president Theo Zwanziger. "I had thought it would not be the case, because in politics, art and culture it is no longer a problem. Even amateur football deals with it better, but professional football appears to be more set in its ways."


The only British footballer to have outed himself while active in the sport was Justin Fashanu in 1990. The Sun newspaper paid him a six-figure sum to run the headline: "I am gay." Fashanu killed himself in 1998 after a 17-year-old boy accused him of sexual assault, a charge he denied.

Connolly writes that "it is estimated that about 10% of players are gay." It is estimated indeed. Every time this topic comes up - and it comes up quite a bit - it is estimated that 10% of German professional footballers are gay. I've been hearing this for at least ten years now. The fuller version of the argument goes like this:

(1) 10% of German men are gay.

(2) Therefore, 10% of German footballers are gay.

Let's ask the internet about whether (1) is true. The only relevant number I could quickly find is from a 2000 telephone survey by pollsters Emnid in which 1.3% of male interviewees said they were gay. I have not seen the questionnaire or the writeup of the study (called Schwules Leben in Deutschland), so caution is advised. Caution is also advised due to social desirability bias, the tendency of interviewees to not report unpopular behaviour. So let's double the number and the 10% estimate is still off by a factor of 4.

But even if the 10% number were true for the overall male population of the nation, does it follow that 10% of footballers are gay? Of course not; that would only follow if professional footballers were a representative selection of the population. Moreover, aren't there reasons to think that gays are underrepresented in football due to self-selection?

When the stereotypically gay former basketball player John Amaechi ("I didn't like sweating") came out of the closet three years ago, Steve Sailer argued that the reasons there are so few openly gay players in sports like basketball, hockey et al. is that there are few gay players in these sports, which is because boys who will turn out to be gay tend not to be drawn to these directly competitive contact sports (my term).

Maybe. Even if there were no such differences between hetero- and homosexuals, however, we shouldn't expect equal representation. The article quoted above alludes to football as a macho culture; let me tell you they didn't make that up. In dressing rooms and on terraces, 19th century ideals of masculinity are alive and well. Doesn't it seem plausible that young players, once they realize they're gay, will tend to drop out of a culture in which "gay" is routinely used as an insult?

Research design: Sailer's hypothesis suggests that boys who will turn out to be homosexuals are underrepresented in directly competitive contact sports. My hypothesis implies that these boys will be overrepresented in these sports relative to the portion of gay adults in these sports. Of course, the two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive.

I can't say I care all that much which of them are true. And I couldn't care less about whether Mario Gomez or Tim Wiese are gay. What really irks me is that people assume that nonrandom samples drawn from a population must have the same distribution of characteristics as that population. Richard Dawkins makes the same mistake when wondering about how many top-notch US politicians there might be that are atheist. It doesn't quite qualify him as an Enemy of Reason, but sloppy it certainly is.

1 comment:

Steve Sailer said...

I'd predict that there are a higher percentage of gay professional basketball players than professional football (soccer) players, because height is such a big factor in basketball potential, and it is, as far as we know, distributed fairly randomly between gays and straights; and there isn't all that much else you can do with being extremely tall. John Amaechi made a ridiculous amount of money mostly for being extremely tall. (Amaechi probably didn't have to put up with all that much locker room harassment because he didn't start playing basketball until he was encouraged to at 17. Probably the worst years for harassment are about 12-16. Plus he was gigantic, which likely discourages bullies.)

In contrast, soccer players tend to be extremely agile, especially with their feet. I suspect that most guys who have the potential to be a professional soccer player also have some potential to be a professional dancer. Which career boys decide to focus upon is probably a deeply personal choice, rather than a rational, money-driven one, as in Amaechi's case.)