A new ITV drama will depict the life and tragic story of Justin Fashanu, the first footballer to come out while an active player. The drama, called Fash, is being helmed by award-winning playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah, and it will explore the complicated relationship between Justin Fashanu and his brother, fellow footballer John Fashanu.
Fashanu’s career is not only notable because of his coming out—he was a tremendously accomplished athlete, becoming one of the first players to be traded for over £1 million.
According to Fashanu, he was continually offered high sums with the expectation that he would remain in the closet. In spite of this, he came out in 1991 after tabloids dragged him out, repeatedly publishing false, incendiary rumors about his private life. Shortly afterwards, football clubs refused to take him on for full-time contracts, and he was ostracized by his family.
In 1998, a 17-year-old accused Fashanu of sexual assault, reporting him to Maryland police. Although the age of consent in Maryland was 16, homosexual acts were still illegal. After police issued a warrant for his arrest, Fashanu took his own life. In his suicide note, he maintained that their encounter was consensual but felt that he would not get a fair trial either way due to his being gay.
His brother John is now supporting the production of Flash. They were estranged at the time of Justin’s death, but John now looks back on this with regret. He told GB News last month, “I was an idiot. I honestly wouldn’t say I was homophobic. I didn’t understand. That’s the key word. Yeah, not understanding. But that’s now 30 years ago.”
He credits his daughter Amal for helping him achieve that understanding. In 2019, Amal founded the Justin Fashanu Foundation, a charity that fights racism and prejudice in professional sports while supporting the mental health of players.
With production now underway on Fash, Kwei-Armah spoke to Deadline about his motivation for writing the film. “I grew up watching the Fashanu brothers,” he said. “I was fascinated by them. Inspired by them. As an adult, my heart breaks for them. ‘The past is a foreign land’, the saying goes, ‘they do things differently there’. In Fash, I wanted to dive into that past, particularly one that has so many resonances with today.”
ITV’s head of Drama, Polly Hill, added that Kwei-Armah’s “scripts are brilliant and tell a story that is heart-breaking and sadly still relevant today.”