There’s just something about Everton midfielder André Gomes that is driving all the men wild! Ever since the midfielder arrived Merseyside on a season-long loan from Barcelona, male fans have been reacting in ways that one popular Everton blog told me they had never seen before.
Whenever his own club tweets about André, they use heart eye emojis; if you read the comments underneath, you will bear witness to English men proposing marriage and blowing kisses to him. Not to mention some professing their strong sexual urges for the Portuguese international.
In an age where women’s sports are still fighting for more coverage of their games and less focus on their sex appeal, what does it mean when male footballers are being marketed as objects of desire? And are self-identified heterosexual men’s public confessions of love for André Gomes a sign of progress or a veiled symptom of homophobia?
First, let’s look at what sets André apart from other players: high cheekbones, a full brow, chiseled features, incredibly lush and voluminous hair, and a keen fashion sense, just to name a few. Several fans have even likened his looks to a Disney Prince.
But what truly stands out is Gomes’ sensitivity and vulnerability. After Barcelona fans became increasingly disappointed in his performances, he told Panenka magazine he wasn’t feeling too “good on the pitch” and didn’t want to leave his house “out of shame.” He admitted that “thinking too much” hurt him. His former manager, Ernesto Valverde, said it was “very brave for Gomes to admit how he was feeling, in such a public manner” because players are usually so “careful not to give out insecurities or weakness.”
Gomes not only thinks about himself; he is extremely caring and considerate of others. At an Everton fan event, André noticed a 10-year-old boy who looked cold, so he took him to the fan shop and bought him a jacket and scarf. When asked about it afterward, he blushed and downplayed the event, calling it a “normal” thing to do. Perhaps in his mind it is, but not every footballer would patiently help the youngster try on different sizes, lovingly zip the boy’s jacket up, and fluff his scarf in the way that Gomes did.
During a charity event, while coaching a squad of players with Down syndrome, one of the participants became so overwhelmed with emotion that he lept into André Gomes’ arms; the player soothed him, holding him for a long time. A few months later, Everton held a “hug-a-thon” for fans “who have fallen in love with the Everton midfielder since his arrival in August 2018.” At the event, Gomes eagerly hugged everyone: boys, girls, women, and men. He was good at it too, greeting each fan with open arms, sometimes embracing for up to 5 seconds. Afterward, he posted that he was, “Very pleased and thankful for the love we shared ?.”
The love is mutual. Men can’t stop sharing their feelings for André. To further examine the phenomenon, I decided to carry out my own (very unscientific) study. From a random sample of mostly white British men who identify as heterosexual who posted about their love for André on social media, I identified three patterns:
- Tender Romantics: Men who express their love for André
These fans are genuinely in awe of André’s good looks and talent. They tend to call him “devilishly handsome” or “beautiful.” One man told me that he wanted to be Gomes’ “Disney Princess.” They would love a hug or a “cuddle” from Gomes and adore his kind heart. They beg him to sign a deal with Everton and stay with them forever. When examining their social media history, they seem like passionate fans who are generally not openly problematic. They use sports as a safe place to express affection for men.
It appears as though Everton is catering to this type of fan by highlighting André Gomes’ caring nature, which is a positive thing. This is an excellent way of keeping their fading tradition of being known as “The People’s Club” alive.
- Straight, but Gay for Gomes: Men who remind us they are absolutely positively 100% straight before stating that André is undeniably handsome
The ways these men remind us that they are hetero is quite inventive: “I’m straight BTW,”
“I’m sure most girls will agree…,” “I love boobs but…,” “Just saying,” and my absolute favorite, “I’m no well-renowned homosexual, but…” Not only is he NOT a homosexual, but he is not a FAMOUS one at that!
When I looked through their social media history, I found that this was a common trend for these men. They made it a point to state they weren’t gay in 2013 when they found John Stones handsome and they sure as hell weren’t gay in 2014 and yet bravely noticed that Kevin Mirallas is attractive and no siree NOTHING TO GAY HERE.
Since 2011, certain posters have consistently made jokes about not being gay, often for doing the most mundane things—like buying yellow sweaters for their son. Gay is definitely on the brain for these straights!
- Erotic: Heterosexual men who describe their strong sexual desire for André in detail
These self-identified heterosexual male fans are sexually graphic about what they would do to André Gomes—and are almost competitive about it. Like Austin Powers, they overuse the word “shag.” Their mates jump into their mentions and ask if they can watch, to which they respond with an emphatic, “Yes!” At first I thought perhaps this was a sign of progress, but when I looked at their past social media history, I realized I was quite naive. These men tended to be the most publicly homophobic types of fans, consistently using the words “gay” and “homo” as an insult to describe their friends or certain footballers that they disliked.
What the heck is going on here?
I reached out to Dr. Eric Corty, a Penn State professor of Psychology and Human Sexuality, and asked him about the phenomenon of male fans who identify as heterosexual, use homophobic language, and still openly express sexual desire for a footballer online. He responded that he is “always impressed with the human ability to behave in a certain way and not draw the logical conclusion from it. This seems to be especially strong in questions of identity. And, it is more common in men than women when it comes to sexual identity.” He cited a study in the National Health and Social Life Survey where men were more likely than women to have same-sex sex but not define themselves as gay or bi.
Several psychological studies reveal that the more homophobic the man is, the more likely he is actually a closeted gay man. One study’s author, Netta Weinstein, stated, “Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves.”
Author Mariah Burton Nelson refers to the act of men watching men play sports as a form of “male burlesque” in her book, “The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football.” A man is “riveted to the sight of male bodies. He watches them move, collide, crash, caress. The players touch. They pat each other’s bottoms.” She cites Peter Lyman’s research suggesting that men’s jokes about homosexuality “deflected attention from men’s love and lust for each other.” Gay “jokes—clear indications that homosexuality is on men’s minds—reestablish the supposed heterosexual status of the speaker.” Lyman also found that the jokes served to maintain “ingroup cohesion” and to keep out anyone perceived as a threat to their bond.
Nelson states that while sports allow men to “find an avenue to express their affection for men . . . in a socially acceptable form” they also provide an outlet for homophobia, sexism, and racism. She theorizes that if “men were to openly display their love and attraction for men” outside of sports, then it would lead to men committing less violence.
André Gomes is helping change the world in two distinct ways: he’s able to be open about his insecurities, and he’s more than willing to hug men outside of sports. In doing so, he prompts men to actually feel their feelings. I look forward to the day when they don’t have to constantly hide them behind jokes.