Hector Bellerin, has revealed in The Times the extent of the abuse he often faces both online and at match venues.
Bellerin, 23, who is an Arsenal defender said he is regularly the victim of anti-gay abuse and that the problem is not just restricted to social media, with similar insults often toward him in Premier League stadiums.
Bellerin told The Times that:
“Most of the abuse is online, but you hear it in the stadium too. People have called me lesbian for growing my hair.
“There are other kinds of homophobic insults. I have learned to grow a thick skin but it can affect you. Every now and again, you get a bit of self-doubt”.
According to Bellerin, footballers can become targets if they do not conform to preconceptions of how they should be. He said that:
The problem is that people have an idea of what a footballer should look like, how they should behave, what they should talk about. You act a little differently and you become a target.
“There is pressure to conform. This is very dangerous. In life, you should be allowed to express yourself. People are happier like this”.
Openly gay footballers are currently not in the Premier League, and Bellerin believes it remains difficult for a player to come out than it would be if they were involved in another sport.
“It is impossible that anybody could be openly gay in football. Some fans are not ready.
“When it happened in rugby with the Welsh player [Gareth Thomas], people respected the situation. The fans respected his decision.
“In football, the culture is different. It can be very personal, very nasty, particularly for players from the opposition team.