In a breakthrough for openly gay athletes worldwide, a British world-class powerlifter and self-described "raving queen" has nabbed a first-ever sponsorship from a leading sportswear brand.
Chris Morgan, the reigning World Drug Free Powerlifting champion, will be wearing Umbro gear when he defends his title next month in Turin, Italy. The time-honored British company is the sportswear sponsor of the English Football Association (FA) and dresses Britain's World Cup team.
In addition to Umbro's sleek double-diamond logo, Morgan will also be sporting the FA's trademark three-lions patch to mark his appointment to its new advisory group on homophobia.
The outspoken advocate praised the deal as "a clear sign of the FA's and Umbro's commitment to 'football for all'"—referring to the motto of the Football Association's campaign to promote diversity. The FA has a 10-year track record at battling racism but only recently took the field against the sport's rampant anti-gay attitudes. Given the powerlifter's take-no-prisoners approach to gay rights, his high-profile appointment is viewed as a sign of the organization's serious commitment to the cause.
Morgan's first official statement about his new role took immediate aim at the pro game, even naming names. "The Premiership football players and management seem to think that it is acceptable to use homophobic abuse on the pitch," he said. "Players like Paul Scholes are using gay jibes in an attempt to undermine their opponents on the field of play. Being gay in football is viewed by the players as the lowest common denominator, and it's now time that this stopped."
Paul Scholes, a popular veteran midfielder, was recently criticized by gay advocates for calling a referee a "poof" during a championship game (See RealJock News for October 4, 2006). Since neither Scholes nor the FA has acknowledged, let alone apologized for, the offense, Morgan was leaping feet first into the controversy.
But the 32-year-old financial advisor is no stranger to heavy lifting. Although he began pumping iron only seven years ago, he grabbed the world trophy last year, completing lifts of 496 pounds in squat, 220 pounds in bench press and 551 pounds in deadlift for a total of 1,268 pounds. Morgan, who weighs in at a mere 164 pounds, then stunned the crowd when he dedicated his gold medal to Matthew Shephard. Back home in merry, old England, he called for any closeted players on the British team to come out at the World Cup.
Morgan has competed in four Gay Games, setting and breaking his own records at each. He committed his gold medal at the Sydney games to Justin Fashanu, the Nigerian-born pro footballer who came out in 1990 only to lose his coach, his career and his contracts, finally committing suicide in 1998. "No gay athlete operating at first-class sport level has dared to come out in the UK since," Morgan wrote on his web site, ChunkyMuscle.com. He has repeatedly vowed that "I will not let Justin Fashanu happen again."
Making Britain's national sport safe for openly gay players promises to be the competition of a lifetime worthy of a true champion like Chris Morgan. Who in American sports is his equal?