Everton pair Richarlison and Lucas Digne insist the football community would unconditionally support any active player who came out as gay.
Brazil international Richarlison is calling on sports stars to use their prominent profiles to tackle discrimination of any form and wants to “help change things around me for the better”.
There are no openly homosexual players in the Premier League or Football League and the sport has traditionally wrestled with the issue of how it would react to a player announcing he was gay.
Everton’s All Together Now campaign, launched in December 2018, is designed to encourage and celebrate diversity and equality. In May, Everton signed up as a Stonewall Diversity Champion.
Former Everton midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger waited until retiring before publicly revealing he was gay.
But current first-team stars Richarlison and Digne – speaking in advance of this weekend’s Liverpool Pride, which features a series of events aimed at eliminating LGBTQ+ discrimination – are adamant a player coming out as gay would be unanimously backed by his teammates.
“I think football is becoming more inclusive and so it should,” Richarlison told evertonfc.com.
“The world has changed a lot, we can no longer live as people did 100 years ago.
“We are all the same and we should be treated this way.
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“Why not in football? We can’t be a bubble in the world.
“I don't think it would be a problem here or anywhere else [if a player came out as gay].
“Everyone must be treated, first, with respect and equality.
“I read a letter sent to the press by a gay Premier League athlete, saying the situation he lives in affects his mental health and that he’s afraid to tell his teammates, for fear things will get even worse.
“It should not be like that.”
Everton has an LGBT supporters group, Rainbow Toffees, and the Club’s union with Stonewall, Europe’s leading charity for lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality, will strengthen its commitment to the LGBT+ community.
Left-back Digne, 27, has been capped 30 times by France and, like Richarlison, signed for Everton in summer 2018.
He maintains the outlook of today’s footballers reflects that of wider society, which is increasingly railing against discrimination.
“We would react normally, we would not have any problem at all with this [a player declaring he was gay],” Digne told evertonfc.com.
“Players are open, we talk about every subject.
“Nobody would need to be shocked and everything would be okay.
“It is something which is normal.
“Everybody is treated equally. This is how it is at Everton and what I have always seen in football.
“This would be no different, it would not be an issue.”
Richarlison, meanwhile, insists football’s support of the growing worldwide anti-racism movement – players have taken a knee before every match following the Premier League’s restart – underlines the capacity for sport to help effect cultural change.
The 23-year-old points to the example of the late basketball icon Kobe Bryant, who regularly spoke out on the issue of racial justice, to illustrate how sport provides its most high-profile performers with an influential voice.
Moreover, Richarlison is determined to create a personal legacy which extends beyond his achievements on a football pitch.
He said: “It’s extremely necessary to remove the label from players, which says they should stick to sports and not talk about anything else.
“When we see such influential guys, like Kobe Bryant, for example, speaking out and showing his ambition for a better world, we need to be inspired.
“He could have stayed quiet and gone about his business as usual.
“But, then, what would his contribution as a sportsman have been?
“He would not have influenced anyone other than in basketball.
“All of us who play in major leagues and have some space in the media have a great social responsibility.
“And this can’t be only words, we need to act more and more to help and to try to change people's reality.
“I want to be remembered as someone who tried to change things around me for the better.”
The death of unarmed black man George Floyd after a policeman knelt on his neck in Minneapolis two months ago sparked universal outrage.
Richarlison was encouraged by the depth of feeling created by television pictures of the incident and subsequent demonstrations in every corner of the globe.
But the South American forward recognises that ridding society of the everyday racism he encountered growing up in the Brazilian municipality of Nova Venecia represents an enduring and complex task.
“Racism is something we live with every day,” added Richarlison.
“It appears not only in words or in actions but also in disguise.
“It was racism when my friends and I went to play football in my city and someone called me bandit, when I hadn't done anything to deserve that.
“But it’s also racism when people change sidewalks when they see a black man coming in the opposite direction.
“These are subtle things that show the scale of the problem.
“Everyone was very moved by what happened to George Floyd.
“It was shocking and very sad to see those images.
“It’s a good thing that this barbarism didn’t go unnoticed once again and people decided to protest and show their dissatisfaction with the authorities all over the world.
“This is extremely important.
“If it [racial abuse] happened to me, I would have no problem talking about it.
“But… in addition to giving a voice to the person who suffers from racism, the laws for those who commit this disgusting act need to be stricter.”