Cassano makes homophobic comment
KRAKOW, Poland (AP)
After being told by an Italian reporter that there might be some undeclared gay players on the team, Cassano appeared at a loss for words before responding.
''That's their problem, but I hope not. ... But I don't know,'' he said, then added that he hoped his answer sufficed. ''Because if not, you know I'll be attacked from every direction.''
Gay associations in Italy immediately reacted with outrage to Cassano's comments.
''Those that express hate toward others should not represent us in the national team,'' homosexual cultural club leader Mario Mieli said, according to the ANSA news agency.
Gay Center spokesman Fabrizio Marrazzo added: ''He deserves at least a warning, if not to be expelled from the Euros.''
Meanwhile, Arcigay president Paolo Patane invited Cassano to make a ''courageous choice'' and become a spokesman in the fight against homophobia and racism in football.
Cassano has always been a player who speaks his mind. He had well-documented run-ins with Fabio Capello at both Roma and Real Madrid, and then a separation from Sampdoria when he allegedly insulted club president Riccardo Garrone with a profanity-laced verbal tirade.
He now plays for AC Milan, and risked losing his life after falling ill with stroke-like symptoms on the team plane in October. He then required minor heart surgery that kept him out for five months.
The question Tuesday was asked by an Italian journalist citing Alessandro Cecchi Paone, who co-wrote a book earlier this year with a title that can be translated as ''The champion in love. The banned games of sport.''
The journalist also suggested that there are a couple of metrosexual players on Italy's squad.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli wrote the preface to Cecchi Paone's book, in which he said, ''Everyone should be free to live with their desires and their feelings. We all need to dedicate ourselves for a sports culture that respects individuals in every expression of truth and liberty.''
Another Italy forward, Antonio Di Natale, said after the book came out in April that homosexual footballers should not reveal that they are gay.
In a statement released to ANSA, Cecchi Paone said he would invite Cassano to dinner after the tournament ''to explain to him the absolute foolishness of his view, because maybe he's a little confused.''
''I want to make him understand that he was ill-mannered toward his teammates who are forced to hide themselves,'' Cecchi Paone added. ''And therefore they play worse.''
Homosexuality in football has been a taboo subject for years.
Justin Fashanu, the first black footballer to move in a 1 million pound transfer when he joined English club Nottingham Forest in 1981, saw his career fade after he publicly acknowledged his homosexuality. He was found hanged in a London garage in 1998 at age 37.
French former player Olivier Rouyer, who once played with current UEFA President Michel Platini at Nancy, came out after retiring as a coach.