10 December 2015

Sound and Fury signifying... A fucking great wanker.

When I was a teenager, swimming was a massive part of my life. And through it all, I was keeping a massive secret.

I loved doing really long distance training sessions. Partly because distance freestyle was what I was best at, but mostly because it gave me time - slogging up and down the pool - almost alone with my thoughts. I say "almost alone" because, obviously, there were dozens of people all around me. But you only get to interact with them once every 400 metres or so. So you're alone with your thoughts despite being surrounded by people.

How would I tell people I was gay? Should I even tell people I was gay? What would happen if I did tell people? Would people be really uncomfortable about me in the changing rooms?

I didn't know any openly gay swimmers. At all. Not in my swimming team, not anywhere.

There was an openly gay teacher in the area who was very well known among the whole swimming community. And I heard the things people said about her behind her back.

She had me sussed out before I'd told a soul on this earth. She was my course tutor when I qualified as a swimming teacher and one day we were watching a video of a male Olympian doing technically flawless breaststroke. The 4 other women on my course were going "oh he's so hot." And I said "eh, he's not my type." She totally shot me that "yeah, I know" look.

Coming out is hard. But coming out in sport is even harder.

Although this was the 90s and there was less LGBT visibility back then, I had a pretty good idea that most of my other friends from outside sport would be totally cool.

I was way more worried about telling people from swimming.

One day my coach said to me "I think you're a bit of a closet hippie."

I just laughed because I so wanted to say "that's not the only thing I'm in the closet about."

But I didn't say it, obviously.

Almost 20 years later there are a few openly gay athletes, including Olympians and Paralympians, but surprisingly few compared to other arenas of life. So young aspiring athletes are still probably ploughing up and down swimming pools or running round tracks wondering "what's going to happen if I tell people?"

Which brings me onto Tyson Fury. A man who looks and sounds like he went "wait a minute: I can actually make a living out of punching people in the face? Awesome!"

Yes, he's currently the world champion at punching people in the face. Which must take a lot of practice at punching people in the face.

Being world champion at anything takes hard work and skill, whether your personal beliefs are harmful or not. It's a shame that being good at a thing also gives you a platform from which to vomit your homophobic and misogynistic views, but apparently it does.

And I'm not going to argue that he shouldn't be allowed to compete in the ring because of the things he says out of the ring; however dispiriting his presence in the sport may be to young LGBT boxers fighting with themselves over whether or not to come out.

But the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year - as the name suggests - isn't just about being a talented athlete. It's about being a sporting personality. And his personality is a cruel, toxic, one. Now matter how talented an athlete he is.

The BBC have refused to remove him from the shortlist of contenders (though they did suspend a gay man who criticised him). But here's the thing: The award isn't pre-determined; it's open for public vote.

The British public can tell everyone that "we don't support personalities this hateful," by voting for anyone but him. Of course, there are 11 other nominees and if all anti-Fury votes are evenly distributed among them; he might still win. So dare I suggest that we all back Jess Ennis-Hill; the subject of some of his misogynistic bile?

The way to show young LGBT people - especially young LGBT athletes - that it's OK to be who you are, and no-one agrees with Fury is to vote against him. So please do. And just maybe a few young LGBT sportspeople coming to terms with who they are will feel a little more embraced knowing Fury got shat on by a whole country of voters.

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