IF you were anything like me, you would’ve seen the tweet-length characterisations of Triple M’s Midweek Rub program in Melbourne with the accompanying headline “AFL not ready for gay players”, and thought to yourself how wrong could they possibly be. No matter how much you try and understand the logic and the reasoning behind it, to me there’s one thought that supersedes it all: it’s 2014, and this shouldn’t be an issue.
Being an Adelaide boy, AFL will always be in my blood. I can remember going to my first game as a kid, and I freaking loved it. Seeing myself, all of 9 years old, up on the big screen at Football Park while watching the Crows claim victory was just plain awesome. Almost 20 years later, my passion as a spectator of the game has only gotten stronger. But not only do I love my footy, I also happen to like guys. And somehow, I don’t suspect either of those things is going to change anytime soon.
As round one dawns upon us, and I do my annual “right, who’s coming to a game with me this season?” shout out, despite my knowing many more straight people, every single person that says “count me in” identifies in some form as liking people of the same gender. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that’s the case for all footy fans, far from it, but as the game evolves, so does its fanbase. Those who are supportive are growing in numbers, and as community attitudes change, it’s something we’re likely to see increase even further over time.
We’re approaching 120 years of Aussie Rules football history in this country. And yet it has only been in the last 20 that we’ve seen social reform associated with this great game. Many long term fans and historians will remember the day that Nicky Winmar took a stand against racism by pulling up his jumper and pointing to his skin. Since then we’ve seen acceptance grow. It’s okay to be who you are, and you’ll be respected because of our mutual love of the game. Just last year, we saw Adam Goodes subjected to racial slurs by a 13-year-old spectator. The response was massive, and it was united; slurs against a player because of who they are are not acceptable. It may not be smooth sailing for the first footballer(s) that come out as gay, but it’s gotta start. And when it does, this spectator will be damn proud. I’m also pretty convinced I won’t be the only one.
We’re in a country where the majority of people support marriage equality. There are more people standing up each day and saying ‘victimising someone because they’re gay isn’t right’. We’re also in a country where almost three quarters of 16-27 year olds are being verbally or physically abused because of their sexuality or gender identity, and that one in four young people are experiencing mental health issues. We’ve got to have role models who stand up for our young people and fight for their future. They can’t just be in the usual places, they’ve got to be everywhere. Some of our future players, even our current ones, are gay. Standing up now means they won’t ever think about walking away from the sport because they’re worried that they’ll be judged. Many others, regardless of whether they like AFL or not, also won’t ever think that it’s wrong to be who they are.
Take a look at recent events. Jason Collins, Robbie Rogers, Michael Sam, Steven Davies, they’re known for their sports accolades, but they’re a part of the gay community, and the support that each of them received for their openness and honesty was overwhelming. Closer to home, you’ve got people like Jason Ball, whose story and instrumental work has led to campaigns such as Footy4IDAHO, where players pledged to never use homophobic language ever. There is greater acceptance within the game, and by those who watch it. I don’t see what the problem is here.
We’re ready for a gay AFL player. It won’t just be the gay community that will support and cheer for them when they come out. It shouldn’t need to, but it will help define the future social parameters of the game. It’s not like spectator numbers are going to drop to astonishing levels when it happens. There will be greater mutual respect and understanding. And who knows, it may just even help to close the social divide in the areas where it exists. Besides, if they can kick the ball well, who cares who they choose to sleep with after the game? The only thing I care about is if they can kick it through the middle as the full-time siren sounds.
Follow Chris Pycroft on Twitter: @chrispytweets