Come out, come out, whichever code you play
Well, you’ve got to hand it to the AFL today, even if it’s taken them about 10 years to say publicly that it’s not OK to slur gay blokes.
They’ve done the respect for women thing and the respect for indigenous players thing and the drink driving thing and the don’t do drugs thing – or at least the don’t do drugs more than two times unless your name is Ben Cousins thing.
Now, finally, just weeks after St Kilda’s Stephen Milne used a homophobic slur against Collingwood player Harry O’Brien, Andrew Demetriou has put his weight behind a campaign called “No to Homophobia”.
This is good. Kids and adults alike sitting in the outer now know that it is totally not OK to make racists remarks. In truth, the actions of players like Nicky Winmar probably had more to do with the change in public attitude and standards than the punitive threats of men in suits or men in blue uniform.
All the same, the AFL and Lord Demetriou were at least partly responsible for an era in which racist insults went from commonplace and tolerated, to rare and completely unacceptable. And now they’re trying to do the same thing with gay slurs.
Only one thing is missing: a player to serve as the public face of the campaign
When the AFL pushes its barrows, be they celebrations of volunteers or women or indigenous players, it has no shortage of “ambassadors” for its causes, to use that awful contemporary term.
The ambassadorial shelf on the anti-homophobia message is a little bare at the moment, but the closet must be chockers.
There has to be a gay player in the AFL. There are something like 800 professional AFL players in the country. Some people say as many as one in 10 men are gay. On those maths, you’d be talking about 80 blokes.
Let’s say it’s only five per cent. That’s still at least two players at every club. So who will step forward and be to their sport what the admirable Ian Roberts was to rugby league?
Whoever it is can probably expect a small backlash, but a much, much bigger and more positive reaction from the football community and the wider public. And think of the positives. If Footy Show Neanderthal Sam Newman blows a gasket, which he probably will, then Nine can sack the buffoon once and for all.
Two years ago, AFL motormouth Jason Akermanis wrote a column of questionable merit in which he urged gay players to stay in the closet, as coming out would only make their team-mates uncomfortable.
Aker went on to state that he has no problems with gay blokes, and he is to be believed for this, as the man is actually no bigot and only about three quarters as barking mad as he comes across.
And then, Aker wrote a sentence which has thus far proved depressingly prophetic. He said: “Now try being the first AFL player to come out. That is too big a burden for any player.”
Of course, it’s not up to me or Andrew Demetriou or anyone to encourage anyone to come out of the closet. That’s for that person to decide. But what that person, or those people, should bear in mind is that they will be welcomed. It’s official now. When Demetriou promises, he generally delivers.
If any gay AFL player needs that extra inch of persuasion to make his sexuality public, he’d do well to Google a bloke called Mark Bingham. He’s the guy who helped storm the cockpit and take down the 9/11 flight that crashed in Pennsylvania, and he was a gay rugby player. There’s even a gay rugby tournament named after him now.
Gay sportsmen need not be objects of ridicule. To paraphrase the words of the world’s gayest band whose music is often played at major sporting events, they can be champions, my friend.
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