David Haigh has revealed that he has spoken to at least 20 professional footballers players who have major concerns about coming out.
The former Leeds United boss – who is openly gay – believes that if they team up together to come out as a group, fans would accept them.
Haigh explained that during his time in the sport, a number of gay football players from the Premiership and Championship confided in him for advice.
“Twenty is a fair number in my view, though probably a gross under-estimate,” he told The Mirror.
“They are still playing, in the Premier League and Championship, but I won’t mention names as a witch hunt helps no one.
“Young stars advertise brands with sponsors and being gay is still seen as a handicap. To be suddenly known for their sexuality would be unsettling.”
He added: “But football needs them to go public. Those who did would be brave – but they’d get a lot of support.”
The only high-profile footballer to have come out during their career was Justin Fashanu in the early 90s, but he faced a huge amount of abuse before his suicide in 1998.
“I believe things have changed massively since then,” said Haigh.
“I also think supporting gay players would be very beneficial to a club commercially.”
Haigh stressed that his link to Leeds United did not mean he was talking about players who are signed to that club.
It comes days after former Premier League footballer Carl Hoefkens revealed that he knows of at least two gay professional players in the UK.
The 39-year-old also said that he played with a third gay player during his career in Belgium, saying that in all of the instances the men in question did not hide their sexuality from their teammates.
Earlier this year, semi-pro footballer Liam Davis became the first openly gay player to walk onto the pitch at the new Wembley Stadium, when he played for his club Cleethorpeks Town in the FA Vase final.
It came after FA boss Greg Clarke claimed that we’re still ‘decades away‘ from a professional footballer in the Premier League coming out as gay.