Hard to beat for lack of respect

As a professional soccer player, there are many ways to leverage your reach and do justice to the oft-cited role model function. For example, you could criticize the World Cup, which starts in a few weeks and takes place in a country where gays are criminalized, women are structurally disadvantaged and thousands of migrant workers have had to die for the construction of football stadiums.

Spanish goalkeeping legend Iker Casillas has apparently chosen a different path to get a few more likes after the end of his career. He probably prefers to joke at the expense of gays.

Casillas, who played for Real Madrid until 2015 and was a long-time international goalkeeper, tweeted on Sunday afternoon: “I hope you respect me. I’m gay.” It took less than half an hour for the tweet to go viral, with thousands of shares and comments, many congratulating him, promising support, but also some homophobic statements.

Of particular surprise was the comment from his former international teammate Carles Puyol, who wrote: “It’s time to tell our story Iker”, along with a heart emoji and a kiss. Normally this tweet would be a minor milestone. So far, no active professional footballer in Europe has revealed that he is gay.

The annoying thing: There has been a lot of public debate in recent weeks about who Casillas is currently dating after he and ex-wife Sara Carbonero split in 2021, but this time the Spanish media has held back. That’s why there were voices on Sunday afternoon suggesting that Casillas was just making a bad joke. The Spanish newspaper “AS” speculated that he wanted to respond to the affair rumours.

Australian footballer Josh Cavallo, who last year became the first active top professional to publicly identify as gay, took to Twitter to express his disappointment: “To see my role models and legends joke about coming out and my community is more like disrespectful.”

After being quiet for several hours, Casillas finally deleted the message, claiming that his account had been hacked. He specifically apologized to the queer community. That Casillas was actually hacked seems unbelievable. On the other hand, it’s more likely that he posted the tweet himself, then faced increasing criticism and wanted to limit the damage.

And Puyol? Was that also hacked? He seemed to realize that would be a little too obvious and later apologized on Twitter for the “no-malicious joke”. He has all his respect and support for the LGBTIQ* community. Ex-Spanish BVB professional Marc Bartra, who had previously written “It’s about time, my friend,” resisted such attempts at explanation.

For queer people seeking role models in professional sports, or who have already made it known that they are queer, Casilla’s perceived disdain is hard to beat. Cavallo rightly speaks of a “difficult journey” that queer people have to go through in professional sports. This is not least made clear by the homophobic statements Casillas and Puyol have made among the ‘coming outs’. So if you don’t want to be a role model yourself, you should at least leave room for others. Because there is plenty, as Josh Cavallo proved.

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