Rio urged gay player to come out before lawyer intervention

Rio Ferdinand has revealed he encouraged a gay male player to come out – but said the individual was later advised against it.

Ferdinand gave evidence to a joint committee of MPs and peers on Thursday morning listening to views on the draft Online Safety Bill, designed to tackle the scourge of online abuse.

The former England and Manchester United defender spoke about the impact of online racist abuse, but when the session turned towards issues around homophobia, he said: “I’ve just met currently a player who had come out, and he was advised by a lawyer not to come out and speak.

“I initially said ‘you need to come out and speak your truth and be proud of who you are’. The reason why the lawyer advised him not to come out is because every individual is very different and you can’t use a blanket approach.

“(The lawyer) advised him based on his experience with that individual, and he didn’t think that he was strong enough mentally at that time, and have the right pieces in place to be able to withstand the media attention and the spotlight.”

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The Football Association’s director for equality, diversity and inclusion Edleen John said her organisation was working hard to make men’s football a more inclusive environment, and one a gay player would be comfortable to come out in.

But it remains the case that there are no openly gay current players in the English professional game.

Ferdinand felt the attention on men’s football meant it was unfair to compare it with how many openly homosexual athletes there were in other sports.

“The amount of eyeballs and the amount of attention and press pages that they’re going to get extra is so much more,” he said.

“It’s about, ‘are you capable of coming out and being able to withstand that media attention?’”

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