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Rugby Players' Tweet Exchange Inspires Homophobia Row in UK

Welsh rugby star Jonathan Thomas apologized yesterday for an exchange with a fellow player on Twitter which made a joke about gay referee Nigel Owens:

Thomas  "Lock forward Jonathan Thomas, 27, who has 51 caps for Wales and is set to play in the second row against Scotland in the Six Nations in Cardiff on Saturday, wrote the offensive remarks during an exchange on Twitter yesterday morning with Ian Evans, one of his team-mates at the Welsh club Ospreys. Evans wrote: 'Legs and ass are in bits, can't move.' Thomas posted in reply: 'U gotta stop hanging round with Nigel Owens!' [a top Welsh referee who came out in 2007]. Evans then made an apology of sorts on behalf of Thomas: 'For those ppl [people] who got the wrong end of the stick... it was from our savage training day yesterday, sorry about my friend fellow ppl.'"

Said Thomas to the Independent: "Nigel is a great friend of mine and there is absolutely no way I would say anything to him or about him publicly – or indeed privately – which I thought he would find personally offensive. There is no malicious intent in this message whatsoever. This was some childish banter between friends and I did not think for a moment that there may be other people out there reading it and/or taking it in the wrong way.  I made a very silly comment to something else that was written, but nevertheless, I would like to apologise to anyone who is or was offended by it. I have spoken to Nigel this afternoon and, as I knew at the time of writing, he is not offended and he remains a very good friend. I have now removed the offending comment and will be much more conscious of distinguishing between private jokes and what can be said in a public forum in future."

Homophobia in sports is currently making headlines in the UK after the rejection by the Football Association of an anti-homophobia ad.

Gay activist Peter Tatchell scolded Thomas: "Homophobic tweets are just as unacceptable as similar outbursts on blogs and message boards. This is not what we would expect from players such as Jonathan Thomas. These remarks are particularly disappointing as they come just weeks after Jonathan's former international team-mate Gareth Thomas came out to such public acclaim and admiration.  Many of us expected and hoped that this was a turning point and that Welsh rugby could kiss goodbye to homophobia. Sadly, Jonathan's proved us wrong."

Owens shrugged off the controversy: "I am very good friends with John Thomas and Ian Evans. It's just banter, it's been taken totally out of context, I think people are sometimes losing their sense of humour. I am disappointed that some people cannot see the humour in what people say. It [was] meant as humour and I have no issues with people pulling my leg like that, they are good friends of mine. I think people are trying to make a issue where there isn't one."

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  1. I am generally vigilant and militant about homophobia.

    Maybe, I'm just in a really good mood this morning, but I thought the comment was kind of funny -- almost an indirect compliment to Owens' virility that he savaged Evans to the point he couldn't move.

    Maybe, I'll re-read this after some more caffeine, and I'll be pissed off, but I think the comment was rather benign.

    Thomas is kind of hot.

    Posted by: Ian | Feb 11, 2010 9:01:49 AM

  2. I'm in agreement with Owens. In my experience, when a group of people is entirely comfortable with issues of sexuality, banter like this occurs in both directions. If that's what is going on here, how is it harmful? Near as I can tell, the only subtext this joke relies on is that "hanging around" (read "having sex") with Owens typically leaves you worn-out and immobile. Hardly an insult to Owens or gay men in general, in my opinion.

    Posted by: John | Feb 11, 2010 9:03:03 AM

  3. I think some might interpret this as more of an insult to Evans than to Owens.

    Posted by: JT | Feb 11, 2010 9:05:08 AM

  4. This is really a non story. I have straight friends and we kid each other all the time, what's the big deal? I make "breeder" comments and they respond in kind and we know it is a form of bonding for heavens sake! We need to distinguish between our real enemies and our allies and not be looking for insults where they don't exist.

    Posted by: Mark | Feb 11, 2010 9:05:52 AM

  5. The problem is that text doesnt convey the full meaning. Friendly teasing is fine, but if a known homophobe had said the same thing the meaning would completely change.
    Its a shame we are so sensitive that any such comment gets a reaction.

    Posted by: Rovex | Feb 11, 2010 9:10:56 AM

  6. I don't see the homophobia either. And like Mark I make comments with my friends at work all the time. I'm accepted and they're comfortable with my gayness. Peter Tatchell needs to chill.

    Posted by: Kerry | Feb 11, 2010 9:13:21 AM

  7. I respect the way Owens responded to this.

    Posted by: Dirk | Feb 11, 2010 9:33:56 AM

  8. Peter Tatchell and our British girlfriends need to lighten up.

    Posted by: Eric | Feb 11, 2010 9:37:48 AM

  9. Please. This was harmless.

    Posted by: Dillon | Feb 11, 2010 9:46:37 AM

  10. This isn't offensive @ all & it's obvious from the statements made that no one involved here is homophobic. My straight friends & I joke like that all the time. While the interpretation of the statements could be generational, some of these guys need to lighten up a little.

    Posted by: Dr. Christopher Blackwell | Feb 11, 2010 9:52:58 AM

  11. Not in the least bit offensive. The sensitivity police need to take a breather and get laid. Oops, did I offend them? Dang.

    Posted by: JT | Feb 11, 2010 10:21:30 AM

  12. Gotta jump on the "me too" bandwagon here. It's a non-issue. None of the parties involved took it seriously, they all knew it was a joke, and it didn't get out of hand.

    Folks need to stop being so sensitive. Straight friends of ours are allowed to have a sense of humor without needed a bazillion character references defending their open-mindedness.

    Posted by: DR | Feb 11, 2010 10:27:52 AM

  13. I also agree non-issue, but nice picture of the bloak. :)

    Posted by: George | Feb 11, 2010 10:30:49 AM

  14. I agree it is a non-issue as well. I think Thomas demonstrated he meant no real offense by calling Owens directly and apologizing.

    The fact that Owens also vouched for him and believes that he meant no offense goes a long way to show that this was just an inside joke among gay and straight friends.

    Posted by: Ed | Feb 11, 2010 10:41:58 AM

  15. I see no issue here, so I'll move along.

    Posted by: Chitown Kev | Feb 11, 2010 11:36:01 AM

  16. Who the fuck is Peter Tatchell?

    Posted by: Dan | Feb 11, 2010 11:39:53 AM

  17. I am deeply offended by Jonathon Thomas' comments. So much so that I think he needs to be spanked on his bare bottom -- I volunteer to administer the punishment.

    (And Peter Tatchell is the gay Al Sharpton of the UK.)

    Posted by: DaveB | Feb 11, 2010 1:40:34 PM

  18. Dan, Peter Tatchell is a gay British human rights activist. He's done some useful work on gay rights, but he tends to be quite sensitive to any kind of discrimination, real or perceived. In this case, I'd say perceived. Jonathan Thomas' tweet strikes me as good-natured teasing among friends and not in the least homophobic.

    Posted by: Smartypants | Feb 11, 2010 1:46:33 PM

  19. I don't think Thomas' tweet was homophobic. I thought it was kind of funny. I take a back seat to no one when it comes to homophobia, but I don't think this one qualifies in the least. Mr. Tatchell might be an honorable man fighting for our cause, but every once in a while you gotta step back, take a deep breath and let it rest a bit.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Feb 11, 2010 3:27:09 PM

  20. Oh, please. That's about the most harmless joke I can imagine, especially as the person being joked about is, apparently, a friend.

    Posted by: SeeingI | Feb 11, 2010 4:42:24 PM

  21. I'm really relieved that no one took offense at this (aside from Peter Tatchell).

    Posted by: Paul R | Feb 11, 2010 6:04:11 PM

  22. One of the religious right main arguments is that Gay men are sexual predators, so I can see where this could be seen as offensive.

    This was just a joke between friends but you have to be careful what you send out into the public, especially on twitter.

    Posted by: Trace | Feb 11, 2010 6:12:03 PM

  23. Trace, (above) I fail to understand your rationale. Yes, the wacko religious right argues, among other things, that gay men are sexual predators. I thought they were usually referring to children. This post involves three adult athletes. ???

    Posted by: Jason | Feb 11, 2010 10:23:22 PM

  24. Thomas' comment was *not* homophobic... Evans' retort was *slightly* telling - like he wanted to make absolutely sure others didn't get the impression that he *might* have done something 'gay'... But all in all, like everyone who has commented so far (thankfully!), this should have been a non-issue.

    Posted by: nudel | Feb 11, 2010 11:14:13 PM

  25. So funny:O)

    People make fun of eachother. In Denmark our humour tends to be quite dark and "rude".
    If we want to make people aware that homosexuality is normal, we have to be able to joke about it.

    I have a friend who is in a wheelchair due to polio, and I call her retard. Well retard is the most equivalent word for it in English, but it has a different meaning. I always say that I'm allowed, because I am bibolar therefor I'm a crazy doodlehead. We love eachother to death, but always makes fun of eachother.

    The fact that we make fun of eachtother is in fact proof that we a close. We would never make fun in a rude way about strangers.

    Posted by: ApolloDk | Feb 12, 2010 3:38:57 AM

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