Footy players out and proud

Eddie McGuire

Eddie Macguire – Collingwood AFL Club



From: Sunday Herald Sun
May 23, 2010 12:00AM

JASON Akermanis sparked a furore during the week when he said it would be better for a gay footballer to stay in the closet than to “out himself” and face recrimination.

While I disagree on many levels with what Aker said, it is interesting that many people still feel intimidated by alternative lifestyles in this country.

For a nation that bangs on about the spirit of the Anzacs and how they sacrificed so much so that we could live in freedom, we still appear to blanch at anything outside the mainstream.

“Ban the burqa”, “stay in the closet”, “send back the boat people” … is it any wonder we look like a bunch of rednecks?

Of course “fear politics” and opinion polls play a major role in generating this type of paranoia.

But just as disturbing as these opinions may appear, by and large, Australia remains one of the friendliest countries in the world.

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Our media may be heading towards a new level of triviality, but, when push comes to shove, Australians remain compassionate and accommodating people.

What we are prone to do is shoot first and ask questions later.

Akermanis’s comments reflect a real belief within the straight world, particularly in blue-collar communities, that gay men are a bunch of promiscuous sex maniacs.

Such a belief is not helped by the fact that the only exposure many straight people have to the gay world is through the telecast of the flamboyant Sydney Gay Mardi Gras.

Recently, I was interviewed on radio by Addam Stobbs of gay radio station JOY FM and I made the point that while it was understandable for the gay community to be sensitive to jokes made at their expense, it may be a double standard for the gay community to take the mickey out of themselves, as well as straight and religious icons.

His honest reply was that it was OK for them to have fun at their own expense, but not for it to be open season from outsiders. And that is the dilemma. Parts of the gay community are still distrustful, with good reason, of those who claim to be friends, yet still joke at their expense.

Take, for example, the furore over Mick Molloy‘s and my comments at the Winter Olympics.

Activist Gary Burns, who first lodged a complaint against Mick and me at the Human Rights Commission, did so to protect young gay men who are still bashed and vilified for just being themselves.

I regard Mr Burns as a crusader for his cause and if a few people have to cop a whack along the way, then so be it.

Once he understood the motivation behind our comments, Mr Burns was magnanimous enough to withdraw the complaint after meeting with me.

And here’s the point: once he trusted me, we were able to empathise with each other.

Similarly, my outrage at being wrongly accused as a homophobe dissipated when I realised his position was based on bringing about fairness to a group of people who have been unfairly maligned and marginalised.

I have been involved in football all my life and I fervently believe that there has never been a better time for a gay footballer to live his life openly.

As much as any homosexual young man would have been devastated by reading Akermanis’s column during the week, so too I hope he would have been uplifted when the overwhelming majority of the football world came out in support of homosexual players.

Gay footballers makes as much sense as indigenous footballers, Muslims, kids from broken marriages, wonderful families, poor suburbs, the country or Western District farmers – that is, they are just another piece of the rich tapestry of life of which the football world is a microcosm.

Aker’s view has credibility.

His words do reflect the thoughts of many people, whether through lack of knowledge, fear, bigotry or just their take on the world.

What it has given us all is the opportunity to take a step forward in the discussion and understanding of the right of all Australians to live their life.

Invariably, the first football identity to come out will be part of a circus of headlines and opinion pieces, which is why that person should heed Akermanis’s comments if only to fully prepare for the inevitability of the coverage.

But just as everyone remembers Neil Armstrong as the first man to walk on the moon, who remembers Eugene Cernan, the 12th and most recent man to do so? So too will it become commonplace and not so much of a big deal once everyone moves past the initial fuss of the first gay footballer.

Wouldn’t it be great if a group of players were so bold as to come out together?

People should not condemn Akermanis for voicing his point of view; he might well end up playing a pivotal role in the next phase of evolution in our game.

Hopefully, the gay community can help those whose ignorance overshadows their natural sense of justice and help them understand we are all in this together.

Just as Nicky Winmar and Michael Long led the charge against racial vilification, so too do we need heroes to lead the way in fighting homophobia.

I can guarantee the majority of the football world will stand as one with them.

Author: Garry Burns

Gary Burns is an Australian anti-discrimination campaigner. He successfully tested the homosexual vilification provisions of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 with a complaint of personal homosexual vilification against broadcaster John Laws and Sydney radio station 2UE that concluded in his favour in 2002.[1] Burns went on to front public interest cases against high profile figures and media establishments for unlawful homosexual vilification.

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