In an exclusive and impactful interview with the EFL, Leyton Orient captain Jobi McAnuff has spoken open and honestly about inclusion within football and society, as Clubs up and down the country prepare to show support for Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign this weekend.
As part of the EFL’s ‘Not Today or Any Day’ campaign, which aims to raise further awareness of the zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, the League and its Clubs will be involved in specific activity, taking place between Friday 4 December and Sunday 13 December.
Speaking about both the issue and the campaign, McAnuff believes it’s vital that the power of football is used to effect positive change.
“It’s very, very important that we show our support,” he said. “For me, discrimination is discrimination and it has no part in society, especially in this day and age. Education in all walks of life is very important but, the fact you might treat someone differently because of their sexual orientation, baffles me. It’s just absurd.
“The key is raising awareness and making sure the conversation happens, because there might be people who need education - they might not know, even though they should. It’s up to people with that platform to get the message out there, raise awareness and improve understanding. It’s been spoken about in this country that no players have come out while actually playing, and I think that, within a dressing room, it wouldn’t be an issue at all. From the dressing rooms I’ve been in, I can say that, hand on heart. I really couldn’t see it being a problem at all.
“I think that the potential issues could come from wider society, so I can understand why someone hasn’t come out. Clearly, there are gay footballers out there, but I understand the reluctance to be the first to come out. Can you do the job you’re being asked to do? If the answer is yes, then that has no relevance whatsoever, and that’s the attitude we have to take towards all discrimination. Wearing rainbow laces is something we can do to raise awareness and show solidarity with those who might be struggling somewhat. We want the conversation out there; we want to shine a light on it.”
As Orient captain and the most experienced player in the squad, McAnuff says he feels a responsibility to lead by example.
Asked how he would react if one of his team-mates came out, he added: “Clearly, I think that coming out has to be something the individual is completely comfortable with.
“As captain, for example, if one of my team-mates felt that’s what they needed to do in order to feel more comfortable and get the best out of themselves, I would absolutely support that person. Likewise, if I was aware that someone was gay but didn’t want to come out, that would also not be a problem, because it’s all about what you feel is best for you as an individual. It’s a deeply personal decision, but not something people should be frightened to speak out.
“As I’ve got older, and as I’ve understood more about how discrimination can affect people, I’ve certainly felt more responsibility to lead by example. I’ve come through an era where things might be classed as banter, and almost become normalised. It’s not acceptable, at any level. As I’ve got older, it’s something I’ve tried to keep a lid on; if it got out of line, I’d have no qualms saying ‘hang on a minute, it’s gone too far’. The football environment is a special environment, things are said sometimes that aren’t meant, but there’s a line between right and wrong. If I’ve thought someone’s overstepped the line, I’ve put my point across. Again, it’s education.
“Would I like to be a part of something that can effect change when I hang up my boots? Of course I would. When you’re talking about moving forward, it’s about people that have experience of issues. How can you talk about discrimination when you’ve never been affected? I can’t go and tell an electrician about how he should feel about his job or something that’s happened in his walk of life, because I’ve never done it. I can go and try to get educated and find out, but I cannot advise that person on what is best for them, because I’ve never experienced it myself. Let’s speak to the people who have been through it, because I’m sure they’re happy to contribute.”