Friday, May 3, 2013

Justin Fashanu, the Jason Collins of his time.

Long before Jason Collins came out of the closet on April 29, 2013 making Collins the first active male professional athlete in a major North American team sport to publicly come out as gay,   15 years ago,  37-year-old Justin Fashanu an English professional soccer player who was also the first black footballer to command a £1million transfer fee with his transfer from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest in 1981 was the Collins of his time. Fashanu revealed his homosexuality midway through a career that flirted with stardom and ended in tragedy.

The difference, Fashanu’s time wasn't ready for him. Times have changed since, while Collins has been lauded for his bravery after his revelation earlier last week, Fashanu's sexuality made him a target. His own coaches, teammates and fans all made crude jokes about him. Opposition fans concocted vile songs and chants about the English player who at the time had played for various English clubs and even the national team.

John Fashanu,  Justin Fashanu's only brother described Justin as an "outcast" after his revelations about his sexuality, lamenting the fact that he (John) would be the focus of extra attention from jeering fans as a result of Justin coming out.

Justin Fashanu moved briefly to the United States in the mid-1990s, finding work as both a player and a coach. However, after accusations he had sexually assaulted a 17-year-old in Maryland – where homosexual acts were then illegal – he fled back to England. Within weeks he was dead, hanging himself in a storage unit after a visit to a gay sauna.

Amal Fashanu, John Fashanu’s daughter fondly remembers her uncle and admits the process of collecting material for her documentary was both heartbreaking and joyous.
"It was like getting to know someone all over again," she said. "The road to clearer thinking in sport was never going to be an easy one and there is still a long way to go. It needed someone like Justin to come along who had no fear of repercussions and wasn't prepared to live his life as sports