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U.K. Pro Soccer Player Fired for Homophobic Tweet

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Thursday Jan 12, 2012

Lee Steele, a soccer player from the UK, was dismissed from the Oxford City of the Southern Premier League for making a homophobic tweet against openly gay rugby athlete Gareth Thomas, Pink News reported in a Jan. 11 article.

The 38 year-old soccer star tweeted, "I wouldn't fancy the bed next to Gareth Thomas #padlockeda**ehole." Steele was referring to Thomas' participation in the popular reality television show "Celebrity Big Brother."

Gareth is now retired after having been the first major professional sports team star anywhere in the world to come out of the closet while still active.

After making the comment, Steele was absent from last weekend's soccer game. In addition, the tweet was deleted and Steele's account has not been updated.

Club officials recently came together to figure out how to handle the incident. They came to the conclusion that they had to release the soccer player.

"The Oxford City board have decided to release Lee Steele in view of his recent comment via social media which is considered seriously contrary to the ethos of the club," club officials said in a statement.

The club's manager, Mike Ford, said it was the most difficult decision of his career. He believes, however, that Steele's punishment fits his actions. Ford also defended Steele and said that just because the tweet was homophobic does not mean Steel is.

Many LGBT groups were happy with Steele's punishment.

"While it is never pleasing to see someone lose a position in a club or company, we fully applaud the club's decision to terminate the player's contract," said Alan Duffy, the director of communications for the Justin Campaign, a UK LGBT organization that campaigns against homophobia in soccer.

"For far too long homophobic comments like the ones Steele made have been defended using the erroneous argument that such remarks as simply harmless 'banter,'" he added. "However, we no longer accept racist 'banter', and likewise, we must never accept homophobic 'banter.'"

Not all sports stars have been slammed with the same punishment as Steele for making homophobic remarks -- especially in the U.S.

In Sept. 2011, Wayne Simmonds, a hockey player for the Philadelphia Flyers, was caught on video making an anti-gay epithet towards New York Rangers player, Sean Avery, during a game, the Associated Press reported.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) called out Simmonds and demanded he apologize to Avery.

"Hate speech and anti-gay slurs have no place on the ice rink," GLAAD acting president Mike Thompson said in a statement. "The word that Simmonds used is the same word that is hurled at LGBT youth on the playground and in our schools, creating a climate of intolerance and hostility.

"He should not only apologize for this anti-gay outburst, but the Philadelphia Flyers and the NHL have a responsibility to take action and educate their fans about why this word is unacceptable."

Unlike Steele, Simmonds was not punished but the National Hockey League issued a statement: "All players, coaches and officials in the National Hockey League deserve the respect of their peers, and have the absolute right to function in a work environment that is free from racially or sexually-based innuendo or derision," Colin Campbell, the league's senior executive vice president of hockey operations said.

"Since there are conflicting accounts of what transpired on the ice, we have been unable to substantiate with the necessary degree of certainty what was said and by whom."

In light of this, we are unable at this time to take any disciplinary action with respect to last night's events."


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