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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
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

    Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

    £26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

    Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

    £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003