(Photo from 10emerson10 on Instagram)
When Corinthians forward Emerson posted a photo on Instagram of himself playfully kissing a friend, he could barely have imagined the repercussions it would cause. This sort of thing is hardly uncommon in Brazil, after all; many of the country’s footballers spend their down time sharing their lives on social networking sites.
So what was so different this time? Nothing really, and yet apparently everything. The friend was a man.
“F*** off and kiss somewhere else; this is a place for men,” read one sign. “No gays,” howled another. Then the chants started. “Go and find a woman to kiss.” “We don’t accept homosexuals.”
There were only five men picketing the Corinthians training complex but they made the noise of 20. Members of the club’s Camisa 12 (12th Man) supporters’ group had seen the photo and felt compelled to show their outrage. “It’s not homophobia or anything, we just don’t want it here,” said one of the men, sounding… er… completely homophobic.
Sadly, this isn’t a minority view in Brazilian football, where prejudice against homosexuals is rife. It resides mainly in the mass (you can hardly spend five minutes in a stadium without hearing the referee/opposition left-back/anyone in hearing range described as viado, a pejorative term for gay people) but also in supposedly more lofty confines.
In 2007, Palmeiras director José Cyrillo Júnior insinuated on a talk show that Richarlyson, a player for rivals São Paulo, was gay. The player – who has since had to cope with all manner of abuse from opposition fans, despite denying the accusation – took Cyrillo to court, where the judge himself came out with this cracker: “Football is a macho, virile… not homosexual.”
This, of course, is symptomatic of a deeper malaise in Brazilian society. The outré extravagance of Carnaval celebrations may kid you that the country is some great bastion of acceptance, but the reality is rather different. This is a country in which Marco Feliciano, the elected president of the Commission for Human Rights and Minorities, has been trying to push through legislation known widely as the 'Gay Cure' – a depressingly self-explanatory title.
When NBA star Jason Collins came out earlier this year, it prompted some soul-searching among the more right-minded football fans in Brazil (of which, it should be pointed out, there are plenty). “There have been rumours about players being silenced by their clubs when they were ready to come out,” Trivela columnist Felipe Lobo sighed earlier this year. “It’s shameful. Football is living in the past.”
But the movement for acceptance has at least gained one high-profile name this week in Emerson, who has hit out at his critics. “It’s an idiotic prejudice,” he told sports daily Lance! “It was something natural – that was Emerson the person, not Emerson the footballer.”
He makes for a somewhat incongruous good samaritan, it must be said. Nicknamed 'Sheik'due to having spent a portion of his career in the Middle East, Emerson is something of a rabble-rouser: past infractions include gnawing on an opponent’s arm and getting thrown out of former club Fluminense for singing a song of exaltation about bitter rivals Flamengo – on the Flu team bus.
(He also has a pet monkey called Cuta, whose views on sexual diversity are said to be rather more advanced than those of the five Corinthians fans.)
But players like Emerson can only do so much. One day someone is going to have to come crashing out of the closet to shock narrow-minded Brazilians out of their inertia. Whoever it is, I wish them luck. They’ll need it.
Jack Lang writes about Brazilian football for the Guardian, ESPN FC, When Saturday Comes and WhoScored, among others.
Follow him on Twitter: @snap_kaka_pop