Former football star John Fashanu has admitted paying his gay brother Justin £75,000 in a failed bid to get him to stay in the closet.
The former Wimbledon striker said he “begged and threatened” his brother not to “embarrass” his family by being open about his sexuality.
Justin, who played for Norwich and Nottingham Forest, nonetheless gave a newspaper interview in 1990 claiming to have had an affair with a married Tory MP. In doing so, he became the UK’s first openly gay footballer, but suffered abuse from fans and jibes from fellow players as a result.
Justin hanged himself, aged 37, in 1998 after being accused of sexual assault. No male footballer since has come out while still playing the sport professionally.
In an interview with the Daily Mirror, John Fashanu, 53, spoke of his “sadness and regrets” over the death of his brother, who was a year older than him. His comments followed reports that two high profile footballers, including an England player, plan to declare their homosexuality with the support of their clubs and the Football Association.
Fashanu said of his decision to pay his brother £75,000 to keep quiet: “I didn’t understand him. I was trying to protect my family and I was worried about the effect on my career. In the process, I lost my brother and I am very sad about that. He committed suicide because he was so distraught the world would not accept a black man who was homosexual.”
Fashanu said that at that time, the public perceived homosexuality to be “an abomination” and “a taboo”. He told the newspaper that his brother’s openness about his sexuality caused confusion and animosity towards him and his family.
“Things are different now. Now he’d be hailed a hero,” he said.
Three years ago, Fashanu had said in an interview with TalkSPORT that he did not believe Justin was really gay, describing his brother as a publicity-seeker who made up stories to get money and attention. He said of football: “It’s a macho man’s game and I think there are reasons why we haven’t had any gay footballers come out. I don’t believe there will be. I’m not saying there aren’t some there, but I can tell you in twenty years of playing all my matches, I have never come across a gay footballer.”
However, in the interview with the Mirror, he urged people to be understanding if players do go public about their homosexuality. “If these young men feel it is the right time to come out and announce they are homosexual, please don’t anybody victimize them,” he said.
“Please be careful with words, don’t let it lead to the destruction of men in their prime.”