When prejudice reaches fever pitch

Sammy Davis Jr was once preparing for a round of golf when his partner asked, "Sammy, what's your handicap?" And Sammy scratched his head and thought about it and finally answered, "I'm a one-eyed Jewish Negro. What's your handicap?"

A joke with a jab. Only the late Justin Fashanu could have possibly topped the gag and the litany: abandoned, adopted, black, born-again, gay and here we go, here we go, here we go, a prize footballer to boot.

Now we know: the centre-forward could not hold, as Yeats would never have said. Yet surely the wonder isn't that Justin Fashanu is dead by his own hand but that he kept going for as long as he did before hearing the final whistle in that seedy little lock-up in Shoreditch. A "former close friend" informs the tabloids "he was unstable", and sooth and nay sayers nod sage agreement. As if we didn't know, as if this tells us something: the unpaid debts; the claims to have slept with two Tory ministers; with Conservative MP Stephen Milligan; with Julie Goodyear; the bad knee; the suspensions; the failed bar; younger, Gladiator John banishing him the day he came out; the collapsed career; the escape to coach in Maryland and the charges of sexual assault on a 17-year-old male student. Unstable? Big time. Yet no one poses the obvious question. Which is, why? Perhaps no one gives a toss.

Certainly the insular, macho world of football doesn't. If it did the decrepit dinosaurs bunging up the directors' box and the hard men strutting the terraces might have to face their part in Fashanu's destruction. They might have to ask themselves how a game that could pour forth a flood of reasons for Ryan Giggs breaking his ex-girlfriend's nose, for Lee Chapman smacking Lesley Ash around and for Paul Gascoigne savagely beating his wife couldn't bring itself to countenance a man who merely loved other men.

Hear the excuses, excuses: "What talented footballers do in their private lives is not relevant". Unless it's that other sort of game where men score with men, obviously. Then it's fine, obligatory even, for a red- nosed troglodyte like Brian Clough to subject a player to public abuse, order him not to frequent queer dives and have him suspended and thrown off the premises for refusing to heed His Master's Voice. Fashanu could kiss, fondle, pinch and wrap his legs around any man he wanted... as long as he was on the pitch.

What rattled Clough so? What rattled everyone else in the stadium. The Premier League clash of cliche and contradiction.

The cliche: everyone knows homosexuals do not - cannot - play football. Happy, happy school days; the sissy kid is always the last to be picked and the first to be picked on. (Ah yes, I remember it well.)

The contradiction: Justin Fashanu.

The boy done bad. Worse, the very fact of him couldn't help but put nasty thoughts into empty heads, there to detonate narrow minds. Fashanu made the latent blatant - and amusingly disavowed homoerotica of football. This hallowed turf where one man can worship another man's beauty, grace and masculinity as long as the worship is careful to appear functional, not aesthetic, certainly not sexual; as long as it passes for straight. A nigh impossible task when one witnesses all those hairy blokes so clearly enamoured of their comrades, radiant with emotions usually suppressed:happiness,tenderness,sadness,joy.

Elton John could own an entire team but Fashanu committed an act of indecent exposure without even realising it. He tainted a pure love and was punished, transferred, shoved from club to club. After Nottingham Forest it was all over bar the baying; gay-bashing chants would go up the moment he stepped out of the tunnel: "You couldn't even score with your brother! You couldn't even score with your brother!" Repeat till fade. Fashanu joked that it didn't matter. Besides, it made a change from racist taunts: "Go, go gorilla!" Defeat declared, if anyone cared to listen. The figure once hailed as a pioneer, the first million pound black player - "tall, strong and blessed wih delicate skills" - was fast becoming a cheque-bouncing, publicity-seeking bore. Justin Fashanu was going, going...

Gone. Who will mourn him? Who will hail his bravery - the first "out" gay footballer - and forgive him his foolishness? Not black culture. Batty boys aren't role models. Not gay culture, as unwelcoming, white and ignorant in its own fashion as football ever was. Sure, Fashanu appeared at a few Stonewall bashes and turned up on Channel Four's Camp Christmas, chasing a media career that refused to be caught.

But the misnomer that is gay culture never quite recognised his vast symbolic importance - fags can think with their feet as well as their tackle - or grasped the daily cost of being a contradiction. If only he'd been a swimmer like glamorous, HIV-positive Olympic gold medal-winner Greg Louganis. Or an ice skater like John Curry. Even a tennis player like Martina. Or even a gymnast like...

Oops. That would be telling. Anyhow, someone more Us - a narcissistic solo turn - and a little less Them - tediously conformist team work. But how do teams change if not from within? If only he hadn't found God. If only he hadn't lied about his "bisexuality". If only he hadn't become a neo-Michael Barrymore. Sad queens: too retro. Sad queens committing suicide: too Fifties. If only...

If only. Suicide leaves the phrase to echo as we insist the dead bear full responsbility for their actions. Guilt makes for convenience. Try Julie Goodyear: "Justin Fashanu ran out of lies." True. And time, luck and hope. Until there was nothing left but the last own goal.

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Commercial Litigation NQ+

    Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

    MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

    Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

    Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

    Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

    £90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?