THERE WERE FEW people in Ireland more shocked with Neil Francis’ comments that “gay people have very little interest in sport” than Simon Murphy, a gay man lining out for the Emerald Warriors rugby club.
Murphy, who has been with the club three years, was left perplexed by the comments, particularly as Francis’ views are not ones he encounters on the field of play.
“It was such a blanket statement, that gay people don’t like sport, it was just mad really.
“Personally, I think Neil Francis is out on his own with those views. I’m with the Emerald Warriors for about three years and we never come across any kind of pride or guys who don’t think we’re a natural rugby team.
“When the team first started out, people would say they probably fielded a stronger team against us because they didn’t want to lose to the gay team but now, whenever we’ve won a game there’s just been a pat on the back, handshakes all round and no reaction from the other team like ‘I can’t believe we lost to the gays.’”
“I think with sports, it’s what you can do, how hard you train and what you can do on the pitch that matters. When we win, there’s good respect for our sporting ability, nothing to do with our personal lives.”
While Francis, capped 36 times for Ireland, has since apologised, Murphy feels the damage was already done, particularly for young gay sportspeople considering coming out.
“For me, it was the same as his initial statement, it just confused me. Saying he worked with the Warriors before and saying he knew lots of gay players, that just contradicted everything he said.”
“[Painting gay stereotypes] does have an affect. There are lots of players who’d look up to international players, Irish players and then someone comes out with something like this.
“I mean, who knows, there might be someone out there who absolutely idolises Neil Francis and wants to be like him and then they hear these comments and if they’re gay, it might impact them a lot if they hear someone say that you shouldn’t like sports.
“Then again, it depends on the individual. Some guys might hear that and say ‘screw you, I’m going to show you how good a sports person I am, whether you like it or not.’
“But definitely, for someone who has got a voice, who is on the radio and in the papers, it’s not a very constructive thing to say.”
Murphy doesn’t believe the argument, put forward by some, that we are forcing players to reveal their sexuality or that players like Michael Sam — whose coming out sparked Francis’ comments on Newstalk — are doing it for the media attention.
“It’s true you don’t have anyone coming out and saying ‘I’m straight’, there is that argument but for someone who is young and gay and thinking about coming out in the world of sport, to see somebody else who has achieved success at a high level in their chosen sport, and is gay, gives you reassurance.
“When you’re young and want to come out, that gives you the confidence to know that this is your place and you’ve no reason not to be here.”
The Emerald Warriors were formed over ten years ago by Richie Whyte to provide gay and bixsexual men with an opportunity to play rugby. However, the team is far from exclusively gay — Murphy jokes they don’t perform a gay test on new players — and are inclusive of all.
“About 10% of our team are straight and even if that became a 50-50 split, we’d still see ourselves as a team that welcomes all players, gay, straight, bisexual and transgender to the game of rugby.”
As for Neil Francis and changing his views, Murphy believes seeing him on the sidelines at one of their last few games this season — rather than going to the ballet for RTÉ Radio One’s Mooney Show — would go a long way to counter any negative stereotypes about gay people and sport.
“[He] is more than welcome to come at watch us play. We’ve three matches left in the season and it’s going well. We’re down a few players at the moment with injuries but we’re happy with our points total after gaining promotion last year.”