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Cricket coach bringing Rainbow Laces message to school sport

As English cricket shows its support for Rainbow Laces this weekend, coach Sam Schofield - who is openly gay - explains why the campaign is so important

Sam Schofield, cricket coach, Rainbow Laces
Image: Sam Schofield has helped introduce Rainbow Laces to the school in south London where he works as Head of Cricket

Cricket is going rainbow once again, with visibility at Vitality Blast and Kia Super League matches from Friday to Sunday in a show of support for Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign.

For Sam Schofield, a 32-year-old P.E. teacher and the Head of Cricket at a school in south London, the inclusion in sport initiative is "incredibly important".

Speaking to Sky Sports, Sam describes his own journey both in cricket and school coaching, why he first chose to speak up against homophobic language, and the effects that he has witnessed the Rainbow Laces message have, both on the pitch and in the classroom...

I took over as Head of Cricket at my school in January. It's a boys school, but co-ed in the sixth form. I'm a full-time P.E. teacher too. This year has been a big 'growing-up' year for me; I've got my own form to look after as well. It's also been a very successful summer of cricket for the school - I couldn't have asked for it to go any better, to be honest.

I came out openly as gay five years ago. The Rainbow Laces campaign was just beginning back then, focused only on football. For a long time, in my late teens and into my mid-20s, I was just trying to figure it all out in my own head. There was a lot of general negativity around being gay, and the attitude in sport seemed to always be that it was simply 'part of the banter'. I found it most difficult in the work environment, when I began teaching and coaching in schools. As for campaigns and role models, I can't remember anything going on like that. It was just invisible.

Mascots wave rainbow flags before the Kia Super League clash, Southern Vipers v Western Storm August 2017
Image: The campaign was first activated in T20 cricket matches last summer and proved to be a big success with players and fans

There was an incident when I was playing in a Sunday match at my local club in Surrey. The two teams were a mixture of adults and Under-18s. Within earshot of me when I was fielding, one of the younger guys on our team used a homophobic word to describe someone else. He said the player in question looked 'like a faggot'. I asked my team-mate to repeat what he'd said, to check I'd heard him correctly. Straight away, he was lost for words, and embarrassed. I made a point of saying to him, 'that's just not OK'. It was obviously language that he was used to saying casually.

I remember reading about England cricketer Steven Davies when he came out publicly as gay in 2011. When any sports star comes out, it's a massive story. I think if I had had more gay role models when I was younger, that would have helped make it easier for me. A lot of people call it "brave", but it shouldn't have to be like that. For me, it's more of a sense of admiration. When people who are in the limelight, who have really successful careers such as in sport, say that they're LGBT, it has a power because there may be a personal risk and because it reaches so many other people.

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Somerset's Steven Davies told Sky Sports last summer that he was delighted to see the ECB backing the Rainbow Laces campaign

A few summers ago, I was 12th man for Surrey CCC - the pinnacle of my cricketing career! In truth, it was purely by luck. I happened to be sitting by one of the coaches when Zafar Ansari got injured. They were asking around if anyone could replace him and I half-jokingly said I'd do it. I ended up spending several days with them, over a couple of different games. It was an amazing experience. I like to pretend now that I've played first-class cricket, but it's not quite true!

When I was at work back then, I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable because of various things that were being said. I decided I needed to come out to the whole school in order to help improve the environment. I kept hearing comments around school - the word 'faggot' being used again - and on nights out, I'd get comments from some colleagues even though they already knew I was gay. I come across as 'straight acting' and I'd had a couple of people say to me 'you're not really a poof, are you?' and other remarks that they thought were funny.

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Nasser Hussain, Rob Key and cricketers from teams playing in the Vitality Blast and Kia Super League pledge their support for Rainbow Laces

In school itself, there would often be times when I'd hear the word 'gay' used as a negative. Once I overheard a pupil using it in conversation with a member of staff - in a throwaway comment, describing something as bad - and my colleague simply didn't pick up on it. I tried to speak to the person privately afterwards, to point out that they'd missed it - but I felt I wasn't really getting anywhere.

It got to the point where I needed to speak up, so I went to see our headmaster. None of that casually homophobic, 'laddy' language I was hearing had been directed personally towards me - but then I'd found out a rumour was going around school. Some of the boys knew that I was gay because they were also playing at my cricket club; they'd heard things that were said in conversations there, so it had slightly filtered into school. Another boy started spreading this rumour about me, and I discovered members of staff were talking to students about me as well. I felt it was my opportunity to just talk generally about my story, what it means to be gay, and why the language and the rumour were not OK.

For those kids or even adults that might be unsure if they'll be accepted... it really connects when you see that the sport you love, loves you back.
Sam Schofield

I follow Stonewall on Twitter, and I saw a post asking for people involved in sport to go on a course about LGBT+ inclusion. A couple of months after doing that, I took an assembly on that topic for the first time, mentioning my own journey in life as a gay man. Since then, it's developed into me doing talks about homophobia in general, how it affects people, and what's going on elsewhere in the world on LGBT rights too. I've now spoken to pretty much every person in the school, at varying levels of the assembly according to their age.

I'm confident in who I am now, but hearing homophobic language still really bugs me. When I do my assemblies at school, I say 'I'm 32, and it gets to me. Just think what it's like for someone younger, maybe in their teens, who's still trying to work it out for themselves.' It's off-putting and so disappointing, and it plays on your mind via endless questions. Will I be accepted? Am I going to be OK? I make sure people know that. You might be a stereotypically masculine sporty guy who might also happen to be gay or bi - they deserve role models too, someone out there who lets them see that it won't stop them being their true selves. It's why everything that sport does in this area is so important.

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Sky Sports News visited Graces Cricket Club, the only gay cricket club in the world, to learn more about the experiences of their players and fans in the sport

I asked my colleagues in our sports department at school to put Rainbow Laces in their trainers. Then in charity weeks, we talked about the campaign in assemblies and got some in to be sold on to students, so the boys could buy them on their lunch cards in the canteens. We've also had weekends when the first teams in different sports would wear them. Around school, some of the staff wear them around their neck as lanyards, rather than just in their shoes. Off the back of that and the assemblies, a few of the kids who are gay or bisexual have even felt able to come out to their heads of year, because they've now felt comfortable in the environment. The pupils and staff have made a real positive impact with the laces campaign and other schools have asked about what we do too.

Live Vitality T20 Blast Cricket

To have a weekend raising awareness across professional cricket is incredibly important. I don't think homophobia in cricket is necessarily a big issue, but Rainbow Laces is about more than that - it's a visible sign to say everyone's welcome in our game. For those kids or even adults that might be unsure if they'll be accepted, or who don't have those role models who are LGBT, it really connects when you see that the sport you love, loves you back. The ECB taking part in the Pride in London parade earlier this month was brilliant too. Maybe in the future, we might even get a day at an England Test match that's associated with Rainbow Laces - that would be massive. You think of how that would reach global audiences, those countries where there are still anti-LGBT laws. If the ECB and England lead in that field, then that would be superb.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 08:  A rainbow shines over the mound stand during day two of the 3rd Investec Test match between England and the West Indies at
Image: English cricket's support for the Rainbow Laces campaign has reached a global audience through media coverage

Sky Sports is a member of TeamPride, a consortium of companies that supports Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign. If you've got a story about LGBT+ inclusion in sport, we'd love to hear from you - contact us, including 'Rainbow Laces' in the Message field.

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