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Jason keeps eyes on the ball
Armed with just his own story and beyondblue’s backing, Australia will be seeing much more of openly gay AFL player Jason Ball this year as he ramps up his work as a beyondblue ambassador challenging homophobia in sport.
His efforts already appear to be reaping results as Carlton midfielder Brock McLean became the first professional AFL footballer to take a stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people last weekend.
Fairfax Media reported his decision was inspired by his sister’s experience as a lesbian as well as Ball’s work highlighting the issue and gay-straight allies such as Wallabies star David Pocock.
This weekend, Ball is leading Victoria’s annual pride march but he has been inundated with speaking requests at high schools, camps and events.
“I think the positive reaction has come from the fact that it’s an area that we haven’t really made in-roads to, it’s sort of one of the last areas which we have to get at that is sport and football especially,” Ball told the Star Observer.
Ball has been working hard since he came out publicly in September to get his message out there, taking annual leave from his job to speak at events including to new AFL draftees as well as 100 Year 11 boys at a Lord Somers camp.
“I was able to talk about what it was like for me growing up in a football community, being gay and how alone I felt in that environment because I didn’t know of any gay AFL players and suspected the worst in how they would react in terms of the language they used,” he said.
“Just for them to know how that affected me and to know we are, gay people, we do exist in these footy teams and they’re your mates, they’re your team mates and just to think about it and they can make a real difference.”
“Most of them will be straight, these guys and they think ‘how does this relate to me’ but what I think I can share with them is my story and how my team mates reacted to me.”
For the 25 year-old, it’s the staggeringly higher rates of depression, self-harm and suicide among LGBTI youth that keep him motivated.
“I remember thinking that I would never be able to come out to my football team and there is no openly gay AFL players and I don’t know of any gay AFL players, so you know we’ve still got a bit of a way to go but I’m really proud of how far we’ve come so far.”