Justin Fashanu’s niece has told Sky News she is “upset” and “disheartened” after a social media user who claimed he was about to come out as a gay footballer appeared to have deleted his account.
The anonymous Twitter account, known as The Gay Footballer, had gained more than 40,000 followers but it was disabled on Tuesday evening – the day before he had suggested he would reveal his identity.
Sky News has spoken to the purported footballer – who said he was an English player with a Championship club – but could not verify if his claims were true.
In a post shortly before his account was disabled, the Twitter user insisted he was not a hoax but said he was “not strong enough to do this”.
Amal Fashanu, whose uncle Justin was Britain’s first and only openly gay male professional footballer before he killed himself in 1998, told Sky News: “I’m pretty disheartened. It’s actually upsetting. Have we made it that bad – the environment in football – that no one can actually come out?
“I’m just disappointed in a way and I feel kind of upset because if he actually is real and feels like he can’t come out, that’s really bad.
“That’s what really concerns me the most – the fact he could be gay and, actually, has been going through really bad times and now he really feels like he doesn’t want to come out.”
Fashanu, who made a 2012 documentary about her uncle Justin, questioned whether Twitter was the right environment for a player to reveal their sexuality, with no active professional male footballers in Britain openly gay at present.
She said: “I really hope it doesn’t put someone off [from coming out as a gay footballer].
“I really don’t think it would put someone off. I don’t think it has that power.
“I do believe if you are gay and you are playing football and you’re genuinely not having a good time, it kind of beats everything else.
“It’s not even a question of time. It’s a matter of when and how. I just don’t know if the right way would actually be to publicly come out on Twitter before anything else.”
Fashanu, who is the daughter of former Wimbledon striker John Fashanu, had previously warned it could be “detrimental” to tackling homophobia in football if The Gay Footballer Twitter account turned out to be a hoax.
In his final posts before the account was disabled, the purported player wrote: “I thought I was stronger. I was wrong.
“Call me all the names under the sun, belittle me and ridicule me, a lot will, and I can’t change that, but I’m not strong enough to do this.
“Just remember that I’ve got feelings, without coming out I can’t convince anybody otherwise, but this isn’t a hoax. I wouldn’t do that.”
Football referee Ryan Atkin, the sport’s first openly gay professional official in the UK, said the reaction to the prospect of a male footballer coming out as gay had been “fantastic” but speculation about the sexuality of players was “very dangerous”.
He told Sky News: “I think we’re at a point in our development in sport where it is acceptable to come out.
“What it does demonstrate is that being who are is acceptable in football and across sport.
“The amount of positive support has been fantastic – 99.9% of people have got behind it.
“I do think it’s a matter of time before a footballer comes out. I don’t think, however, that they would do it via Twitter.”
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