Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin believes an openly gay player in men's professional football would face too much backlash to handle, revealing that he receives homophobic insults because of his fashion choices.
"It is impossible that anybody could be openly gay in football," Bellerin told Matthew Syed of The Times in an interview published Friday.
He continued: "Some fans are not ready. When it happened in rugby with the Welsh player [Gareth Thomas], people respected the situation. The fans respected his decision. In football, the culture is different. It can be very personal, very nasty, particularly for players from the opposition team."
The 23-year-old, who has started each of the first four games for Arsenal this Premier League season at right-back, has deleted his Twitter account.
"People have called me 'lesbian' for growing my hair. There are other kinds of homophobic insults," Bellerin explained. "I have learnt to grow a thick skin, but it can affect you. Every now and again, you get a bit of self-doubt."
Thomas made his announcement in 2009, and a handful of professional male footballers have followed suit in the years since. Thomas Hitzlsperger is the only openly gay player to have played in the Premier League—in stints with Aston Villa, West Ham United and Everton—but he announced his sexuality following the conclusion of his career in 2014.
Torquay United footballer Liam Davis, England's only active openly gay player, has said he hasn't received much backlash after accidentally being outed by a local newspaper shortly after Hitzlsperger's announcement. "Not once have I had a problem," he told Jim White of the Telegraph last December. "The game has been brilliant to me. As it would be to [others]."
Davis said he believed there were about 20 players across Europe who could be preparing to come out.
Major League Soccer in the United States has seen two players announce they are gay—former Los Angeles Galaxy full-back Robbie Rogers and Minnesota United midfielder Collin Martin, who came out in June.
Bellerin's experiences are not isolated, though, with Mexico supporters' use of slurs in chants during a FIFA World Cup match this summer receiving widespread attention.