Almost two weeks after the weird sporting swap in which Sydney won the AFL and Melbourne the NRL, the euphoria of football finals has almost totally worn off. However, concerns regarding a culture of homophobia in the sporting world linger, fuelled by recent events in the AFL.
It’s no secret that the AFL isn’t a gay mecca, with a grand total of zero openly gay professional footballers. It is practically a statistical impossibility that all of these players are actually just straight, so the reasonable conclusion to draw is that gay AFL players exist, but do not want to come out. Coming out is a deeply personal process, and people have many different, valid reasons for not wanting to do it. However, evidence points to the AFL being a less supportive environment than most.
A couple of months ago, St Kilda player Stephen Milne called another player a ‘fucking homo’ on the field and was fined $3000. Many people derided this punishment as too soft, comparing it to previous slurs that were non-homophobic but otherwise offensive and which earned suspensions instead. Another controversy occurred back in 2010 when player Jason Akermanis wrote an op-ed stating that gay players in the AFL should stay in the closet.
Throw in the fact that sporting lingo almost inevitably involves slogans like ‘you’re playing like a bunch of faggots!’ and ‘you throw like a girl!’ and, hey presto, we have a problem. Worst of all, many people who do use homophobic and sexist language in a sporting context don’t even realise that they’re doing it.
To the credit of the AFL, steps in the right direction have been taken. They have openly supported the ‘No To Homophobia’ campaign and, in response to a petition started by amateur AFL player Jason Ball, showed anti-homophobia advertisements during the preliminary finals. The petition also calls for the creation of a Pride Round, similar to the existing Indigenous Round, which the AFL has said they are considering.
This is all great, but it’s essential that the campaign doesn’t end here. It’s beyond obvious that professional sports people shouldn’t call each other ‘fucking homo’ on the field. Unfortunately, the key to changing an entire sporting culture is not so clear. Ideally, gay players in the professional league could be more open about their sexuality, providing positive role models for younger and amateur players wanting to know if there is a place for gay people in the AFL.
To this end, an education campaign about discriminatory language in sport could be a good place to start.