NEW Professional Footballers Association (PFA) chairman Ben Purkiss said yesterday that he believes football’s changing culture could encourage gay male players to come out.
The Swindon defender, who took over the role last month, insists the union would be there to fully support any player who wanted to disclose their sexuality.
There has yet to be an openly gay active men’s professional footballer in Britain.
Football Association chairman Greg Clarke told a panel of MPs last year that he would not encourage a player to come out because he was worried about the abuse they would receive.
Former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger came out in 2014 after ex-Leeds winger Robbie Rogers did in 2013, and Purkiss says the PFA is geared up to help gay players.
Purkiss said: “Attitudes in society are changing. As time goes by, new players come into the game and attitudes develop, I think and hope people will feel comfortable coming out.
“I hope they feel football is a safe environment to do that. Clearly at the moment people don’t feel that way because we don’t have any active openly gay footballers.
“It would be a surprise if there weren’t gay footballers. The role of the PFA is to be supportive and try to ensure the culture of football is safe enough so people feel comfortable being themselves.”
Purkiss has replaced Ritchie Humphreys, who is now a full-time delegate liaison officer with the PFA, at a time when the union’s role across a range of matters remains vital.
Last year, 160 current and former players asked the PFA for help in dealing with mental health issues.
High-profile players, including Aaron Lennon, Chris Kirkland and former PFA chairman
Clarke Carlisle, have suffered with mental health problems and Purkiss feels the support is there, with the players’ union offering a 24-hour helpline and counsellors.
“Players are more comfortable discussing their problems and realising they don’t have to suffer in silence. That macho culture people think about in football and society is starting to dwindle a bit.”