My memories of May 1998 were filled with excitement and high hopes for my future as I was preparing for my high school graduation, but ironically as my adult life was just beginning, the life of famed British footballer Justin Fashanu was coming to a tragic end.
I first learned of the life of Britain's first openly gay footballer as retired NBA athleteJohn Amaechi reflected on his unfortunate passing earlier this month during an interview with the UK's The Voice.
May 2, 2008 marked the tenth anniversary of the death of Britain's first openly gay footballer to earn a million pound salary.
Justin Fashanu was born in 1961 in London and was raised along with his brother John by foster parents due to his mother's inability to provide for the pair financially. His natural ability to excel in sports, specifically his chosen sport of football landed him on a series of professional teams over two decades. His shining moment occurred in 1980 in a game against Liverpool where he scored the goal that was seen around the world and lauded by fans everywhere.
He made history when he was the first black footballer to earn a million pound salary when he was recruited to play for manager Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in 1981.
In 1990, Justin publicly came out as gay in an interview with the tabloid press after learning that he would be outed in an upcoming expose', becoming the only prominent player in English football so far to do so. Many former colleagues spoke out in anger against him, stating that homosexuals had no place in a team sport, and his brother John publicly disowned him. Although he claimed that he was generally well accepted by his fellow players, he freely admitted that they would often joke maliciously about his sexual orientation, and he also became the target of constant crowd abuse because of it.
His then notoriously homophobic manager Brian Clough banned him from team practices after publicly coming out and eventually traded him to Southhampton. In Clough's autobiography he recalls a conversation he had with Fashanu after learning he attended gay bars. "'Where do you go if you want a loaf of bread?' I asked him. 'A baker's, I suppose.' 'Where do you go if you want a leg of lamb?' 'A butcher's.' 'So why do you keep going to that bloody poofs' club?" Clough later apologized for his cruel treatment towards Justin Fashanu before his death in 1994, realizing he had contributed to his pain.
Coming out coupled along with a serious knee injury proved to be the beginning of the end of a career with so much promise. Over the next few years Justin would play for various teams in Britain as well as stateside in Georgia and Maryland. It was here according to Fashanu he would have consensual sex with a 17 year old boy who eventually accused him of sexual assault.
Justin returned to the U.K. avoiding ever being questioned by police, the charges were later dropped due to a lack of evidence.
However, upon his return Justin Fashanu took his own life in an abandoned garage after visiting Chariot's bathouse in London by tying an electric fix around his neck. His suicide note read;"I realized that I had already been presumed guilty. I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family"..."I hope the Jesus I love welcomes me, I will at last find peace."
Watch the celebrated goal and a moving tribute to Justin Fashanu below: