Antonio Cassano built up quite a bit of goodwill after undergoing heart surgery and recovering from a stroke last season to even make it back on the pitch for Italy's Euro 2012 campaign, but his latest comments will probably damage that positive spirit. During a press conference on Tuesday, the filterless Cassano added to the already large pile of regrettable comments he's made over his career with his response to questions about reports that there are two homosexual players in the Italian squad.
From Football Italia:
"Are there any gay players? [Italy manager] Cesare Prandelli told me you'd ask that question," said the Milan striker.
"It's their problem. If they are gay (though he used a far more offensive Italian term, ndr), then that's their problem.
"If I say what I really think, then there's going to be chaos. Are there any gays in the locker room? I hope not. In any case, it's their problem and nothing to do with me."
Italian journalist Pierluigi Pardo defended Cassano by tweeting, "I know that Cassano is not homophobic (I know it well) the fact remains it was very wrong to say those things and use that word." Unfortunately, Cassano's sentiment is far from the exception.
Other Italian players like Antonio Di Natale and even president of the player's association Damiano Tommasi have urged any gay players not to come out in the misguided view that avoiding the matter will protect from any problems that may arise from going public. But ignoring something doesn't make it go away. To his credit, Cesare Prandelli has urged gay players to come out, though.
With the focus already on racism at Euro 2012, this serves as another reminder that football has a lot of growing up to do and that slapping the word "respect" on players' sleeves probably isn't enough to actually bring change.
UPDATE: Cassano has backtracked and apologized for his earlier comments. Again from Football Italia:
"I am sincerely sorry if my comments sparked controversy and protests among gay rights associations," read the statement issued this evening.
"Homophobia is not something that is part of my nature. I didn't want to offend anyone and I absolutely do not want to put anyone's sexual freedom under duress.
"I only said that it's a problem that has nothing to do with me and I do not judge the choices of others, which should be respected."
Except that's not what he said. Saying "I hope there aren't any gays in the dressing room" and "If I say what I really think there's going to be chaos" isn't equivalent to "I do not judge the choices of others." But it might be a bit much to expect a person with a dolphin tattoo to see that.
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