Footy’s finally ready to accept gay players

Posted on - Latest News, Featured, PEGS

Originally published in the Herald Sun, September 7 2014, titled ‘Footy’s finally ready to accept gay players’. 

By Sean Towner – PEGS Football Club

LOOK at the world of sport and there’s something that connects the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball and the NRL — they’re all major sporting associations with openly gay players.

So if the world’s sporting stage has shown that it’s ready, why can’t the AFL?

Let’s get all the facts out there: I’m a man in my late 20s, I play Aussie Rules; in fact, I’m the captain of PEGS Football Club in the VAFA — and I’m a proud and openly gay man.

Over the past year or so, we’ve all seen the blanket coverage when sportsmen “come out” — but it’s not as big a deal as people think.

I’ve played footy every week since I was eight and since I came out almost three years ago, my life, my team and my role in the footy club has not changed. I was captain before I came out and have been the captain every year since.

I’m not saying that to impress, but to show I have first-hand experience and know the footballing community is ready for a gay player in our sport’s top competition. I believe the attitudes of the minor leagues reflect the national competition.

I haven’t gone out of my way to tell my competition that I’m gay but many of my opponents know me and my sexuality and I haven’t experienced homophobic sledging before, during or after a game.

My teammates have been supportive; they accept me for the player and person I am and it simply doesn’t bother them. The club has accepted my partner, Mike, as a part of its social fabric and, being the partner of the club captain, he’s affectionately known as Head WAG.

While my club and opponents in the VAFA are only a small sample of the community, I think it shows our society has changed.

Trailblazers like country footballer Jason Ball have shown that you can be gay and a footballer.

I’m lucky enough to have some current and former AFL players I have the privilege to call mates. They are people who knew me before I came out and whose attitude towards me, and friendship, hasn’t changed.

Wayne Carey, who was as hard a sledger as anyone in the ’90s and who would once have “sprayed” a gay footballer, now says how proud he is that I’m comfortable enough to be an openly gay player.

Wayne is a guy who admits to sledging people simply as a way to get under the skin of his opponent. Everyone did.

After years out of the game, the Duck admits that he made mistakes and believes an openly gay player would be fantastic for the AFL and sexuality would not be seen as “fair game”. Attitudes like that tell me the footballing world is ready.

 Current champions like Brock McLean support the “No To Homophobia” campaign and Brock regularly joins other AFL stars in support of gay people in sport, as well as the community.

Brock is the quintessential Aussie male, good at sport, someone who is as comfortable having a beer with his mates as he is on the MCG in front of 80,000 people. The point is that Brock represents the changed attitudes of football and has the courage to be vocal about it.

I put sexuality in the same category as race. They are both something a person is born with. A

person can no more choose their sexuality than they can choose their race. After a change in attitudes, racial sledging is now unacceptable. So it should be with sexuality.

Of course, people will say that even if opponents of a gay footballer don’t sledge him, the opposition crowd will.

But look at the experiences of players such as Buddy Franklin or Adam Goodes. When they stand up to racists in the crowd, and were backed by the majority of Australians, they showed how community standards have changed and pointed gay footballers towards acceptance.

THEIR experiences illustrated that our society is no longer willing to accept vulgar slurs. We won’t accept discrimination against others for who they are and that would extend to an openly gay footballer.

We’ve come a long way since Nicky Winmar stood against mindless discrimination by lifting his jumper to show the colour of his skin; far enough, I believe, that a person’s sexuality would no longer be of consequence.

When Ian Thorpe revealed his sexuality after a long internal battle, he admitted that in the past, he “didn’t think that the Australian public would want their champion to be gay”.

But the support he’s received since, from other sporting people and the community at large, shows that has changed.

There will always be some bigots who will abuse a gay footballer but they are now the minority and the community will weed them out, just as they have racists.

To those gay players reading this, remember you have more supporters than detractors. Once you stand up, you’ll be part of history and your sexuality will not define who you are as a person or as a footballer.

Be proud. It will be the best decision you ever make.