Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2 May 1998 - The Death Of Justin Fashunu

On 2 May 1998, Justin Fashunu, Britain's first openly gay professional footballer, killed himself after being accused of sexual assault. He was 37 years old.

The London-born forward started his professional career in 1978 with Norwich and scored 35 goals for them in 90 league appearances, including one against Liverpool that was named the BBC Goal of the Season in 1980. In 1981, he moved to Nottingham Forest, who made him the first black player to command a £1 million transfer fee. He failed to settle at Forest, however, and left after one season, starting a journey that saw him at nineteen different clubs over the next fifteen years.

In 1990, he become the first (and, to date, only) professional footballer to openly identify himself as homosexual. Although his brother John--who was also a professional footballer--immediately disowned him, Fashunu said that his teammates were more accepting.

He retired in 1997 and, one year later, was in the United States to interview for a coaching position. In March 1998, a 17-year old accused Fashunu of sexually assaulting him after a party at Fashunu's rented Maryland apartment. After being questioned by police, Fashunu fled back to England and, on 2 May 1988, hanged himself in a garage. In a note, he claimed that his actions had been consensual and that his accuser was trying to blackmail him. He also said that he "had already been presumed guilty" and did "not want to give any more embarrassment to" his friends and family.

Fashunu was the inspiration for the Justin Campaign, formed in 2009 to combat homophobia in football.

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