‘Be yourself’ – Burton Albion coach shares story for Rainbow Laces

Coming out in football certainly was not easy for Burton Albion coach Ben Watkiss – but he says he is much happier since deciding to be his authentic self in the game.

Watkiss began working as a sports science and fitness coach with the Brewers just before the League One season got underway, having come out as a gay man in the men’s game prior to his appointment when he was focusing on refereeing.

He has been proud to wear Rainbow Laces in his boots in support of the Stonewall campaign for LGBT+ inclusion in sport, showing them off last weekend when Burton hosted Crewe in their dedicated matchday fixture to raise awareness.

Speaking to Sky Sports News’ Mark McAdam at Burton’s St George’s Park base, the 24-year-old explains the challenges he felt before he came out.

He said: “You’re hiding it when you’re in the closet, if you like. It’s horrible really because you’re keeping a big part of your personality secret – whereas as soon as you do come out, you can just be yourself.”

Watkiss is a big advocate for authenticity and hopes other people working in football who are LGBT+ – whether that’s players, coaches, officials, or administrators – get to experience the same benefits he has felt.

He recognises that perceptions of men’s football, in particular, make this difficult but he is happy to be an advocate for visibility.

“I noticed growing up that I’d never seen an openly gay person within a playing or coaching staff,” says Watkiss.

“You start thinking, ‘well, I can’t be the only one’ so It must be a case of ‘you’re not welcome, it doesn’t work, it’s not a good fit’. It was a worry that if I was to come out, that’s football finished.

“But you soon realise that that’s not the case.

“If a [male] player was to come out, they’d be welcomed with so much love, support and goodwill. I think the biggest part now is on people who are currently within the game and who are openly gay to be visible, seen, and to share positive experiences.”

Sky Sports is a member of TeamPride which supports Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign. If you’d like to help inspire others in sport by sharing your own story of being LGBT+ or an ally, please contact us here.

Source : Sky Sports