Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

What sports media must learn from LGBT+ history month

Posted on 28 February 2021 by Lukas Flottmeyer

For one month, a beautiful, colourful and sparkling rainbow shined on the sports media landscape. ‘Body, Mind, Spirit’ was the theme of this year’s LGBT+ history month.

The Sports Gazette spoke to Sam Clarke, Football v Homophobia’s youth panel communications officer, about the current state of play, the organisation’s month of action, and his biggest dream for the next generation of sports journalists.

State of Play

“First and foremost, you can’t underestimate how far behind it (the media) is on transgender issues. It’s so, so far behind,” says Clarke.

“I don’t understand how people can make the same mistakes we had with racism in the 70s and 80s. You look back at some of the stuff that went out on TV and you think ‘how the hell was that allowed on TV’?

“Then you look back 20 years ago with homophobia and think ‘how was that allowed on TV’? And now we’re making the same mistake again with transphobia,” Clarke illustrates.

“You can be outright transphobic as part of a headline, you can be outright transphobic on TV and it’s still not treated as being an outright homophobic, an outright racist, or an outright sexist,” complains Clarke.

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A different issue Clarke addresses: “The witch hunt of looking for a gay footballer.” While The Athletic wrote an insightful piece on the life of the world’s most famous gay footballer, Justin Fashanu, most parts of British sports media are looking for the first out gay Premier League player.

“Whenever you see headline news about that, the front page has a dark image with someone with their hood up and a dark face. It’s such a negative imagery, treating it like it’s something of shame, something to be scared of,” says Clarke.

Instead of helping, negative imagery creates a toxic climate and LGBT+ athletes feel pushed away even more. “You don’t need to use this. There’s so much positive spin to look at stuff. So many positive stories about LGBT people in football,” states Clarke.

“I’m a massive believer that we shouldn’t be waiting for a gay footballer to come out. We should create the environment for them to come out first. We don’t want to do what we did with racism again; wait until black footballer are in a top level and fight racism,” Clarke explains about his goal for sports media. “It’s going in the right direction but it’s still a long way to go.”

Opportunities the pandemic offered might be useful for LGBT+ athletes and groups. “We found a new way of connecting. It opened up a lot more possibilities,” says Clarke.

“A lot of clubs and players talk to LGBT groups. Would they’ve done that if the focus would be in real life? Maybe not, but now they can do this over Zoom. It feels like this stuff wasn’t happening before.”

Football v Homophobia

Like Clarke suggests, let’s focus on positive stories: the Football v Homophobia campaign. Originally set up in 2008 as the Justin Campaign – named after the 10 year anniversary of the tragic death of Justin Fashanu – Football v Homophobia is the UK’s most well known campaign during the month of action in February.

In February, the campaign uses the media’s focus to host events, hold seminars and cooperate with clubs publicly. Even with current restrictions, Clarke is more than delighted about this year’s month of action – “When you look at this year compared to last year, it really feels teams are taking it to another level of doing stuff rather than just putting the rainbow laces on their boots or playing with a rainbow football.

“It seems like there’s actually way more going on. They’re actually producing content, be more inclusive. It does feel like this year has seen a lot more proactive work from clubs and organisations. That’s the key point.”

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Aware that the interest in LGBT+ sports stories will drop the next months, Football v Homophobia is prepared to maintain their new started projects and collaborations. “This is the month where you scream and shout. The next months are the months you implement it,” says Clarke.

“It may not be on the surface, but the hope is that clubs implement these things they talked about. That’s up to us to make sure they’re doing these things,” Clarke explains.

“Leicester City has been doing a lot of great stuff, for example. They work very closely to Foxes Pride. They’ve done a lot of great jobs in terms of telling stories,” recapitulates Clarke.

Inclusivity in the curriculum

During LGBT+ history month, Clarke and Jon Holmes, senior editor and writer at Sky Sports, hold a webinar on current issues in the sports media. “I had this idea for a while: how to tell LGBT inclusive stories, how to make your day-to-day report more inclusive?”, says Clarke.

“You learn media law; you learn a lot of ethics. But it’s more journalism ethics whether you get away with this and that,” describes Clarke the lack of inclusive topics in current university curriculums. “It’s just a key part of journalism now to tell inclusive stories. So, I thought ‘surely this should be part of the curriculum’.”

Clarke, who does his sports broadcasting master at Solent University Southampton, pitched the idea of an inclusive webinar to his head lecturer. “He was so keen for it. I went on this massive pitch and he was just like: ‘you don’t have to send me this. I’m sold,” laughs Clarke. “It was so great to have this kind of reaction instantly.”

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That was in August last year. From then on, Clarke and Holmes prepared themselves for the webinar. The success overwhelmed both. “We didn’t know there was a max of 100 people on our Zoom account and suddenly we had 12 people in the waiting room. That whole thing was just crazy,” smiles Clarke. “The students were engaged, asked a lot of questions and seemed to actually pay attention.” The sweet dream of every university lecturer.

Clarke’s dream is to make inclusivity part of sport journalism degrees, not just at Solent University. “It should be in general. That’s one of my goals. I believe there’s room for some kind of an inclusive part of the course,” tells the ambitious student from his own experience.

“A year you could maybe just do the basics of inclusive reporting. You could have an optional active journalism module,” explains Clarke his ideas. “You could have an option how to talk about LGBT stories, racism, sexism, misogyny. There’s so many different levels to this.”

Inclusivity as a core in a curriculum or not – Clarke will go forward to educate young journalists about the importance of inclusive and positive LGBT+ stories.