PFA chairman Ben Purkiss to support gay players if they choose to come out

Swindon Town defender Ben Purkiss has been named new PFA chairman
Image: PFA chairman Ben Purkiss says the organisation is keen to support gay players

Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) chairman Ben Purkiss believes the changing culture in football could encourage gay players to come out.

The Swindon defender, who took over the role last month, has promised the organisation would fully support any player who wanted to disclose their sexuality.

There has yet to be an openly gay men's professional footballer in Britain still playing the game, with FA chairman Greg Clarke telling MPs only last year he would not encourage a player to come out because he was worried about the reception they would receive from fans.

Former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger and ex-Leeds winger Robbie Rogers came out after retiring from playing, although the latter then resumed his career with MLS side LA Galaxy before retiring permanently last month, and Purkiss says the PFA is well placed to help gay players.

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"Attitudes in society are changing," he said. "As time goes by, new players come into the game and attitudes develop, I think and hope people will feel comfortable coming out.

"I hope they feel football is a safe environment to do that. Clearly at the moment people don't feel that way because we don't have any active openly gay footballers.

"It would be a surprise if there weren't gay footballers. The role of the PFA is to be supportive and try to ensure the culture of football is safe enough so people feel comfortable being themselves.

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"You've seen the [Stonewall] Rainbow Laces campaign and there is work being done to change perceptions but it takes time. We are 100 per cent behind the campaign and 100 per cent behind any player who wishes to come out."

Mental health is another key area in which the PFA are keen to work with their members.

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High profile players, including Aaron Lennon, Chris Kirkland and former PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle, have suffered with mental health problems and Purkiss feels the support is there, with the players' union offering a 24-hour helpline and counsellors.

"Players are more comfortable discussing their problems and realising they don't have to suffer in silence," he added.

"That macho culture people think about in football and society is starting to dwindle a bit.

"It's quite scary there are a lot of people in the industry who are suffering these problems and there will be more who don't feel comfortable in coming forward.

"But we shouldn't be frightened by the numbers, we should embrace the fact people are wanting to make contact and recognise there is a problem and continue initiatives to alleviate them."

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