150 Years and No Gay Footballer? That’s Queer.

By Phil Dimitriadis


In almost one hundred and fifty years, there is no explicit history about a homosexual Australian Rules player at the highest level.

This does not reflect the cultural realities of the society that plays and watches the game. If ten percent of the population were gay then out of the six hundred plus players on AFL lists at least fifty would be gay. Where are they?

I am aware that these statistics are broad and somewhat speculative, but even so there is still an unnerving sense of disproportion in the fact that nobody has yet had the courage or the support to come out publicly.

The AFL has an opportunity to lead the way in opening the vault and giving young men and women the chance to feel that they don’t need to be heterosexual in order to excel in the game or participate in it actively.

It is an indictment on the AFL that young gay footballers continue playing the game while having to live in quiet desperation to perpetuate archaic heterosexual notions of masculinity.

Ian Roberts, the former Rugby League champion is one of the few footballers of any code to publicly come out. In his autobiography Finding Out, he argues that homosexuality besmirches the heroic ideals that surround football:

“Like anyone else, many homosexuals love and thrive on sport. Not for the perv. For the sport. For actual love of the sport! But the footy subculture finds it hard to accept that. And it will continue to do so as long as the culture as a whole persists with its hideous reliance on separating and defining masculinity and femininity, as if each sex should display only one possible set of traits”

The AFL culture has always struck me as being ultra conservative and extremely homophobic.

It is as if football is held up as the last frontier of heterosexual masculinity. The AFL continues to defend that frontier at the cost of the mental health of a number of its participants.

Almost every week I hear male supporters bag a player for ‘playing like a sheila’ or unleashing a hateful ‘ya girl’ and ‘ya faggot’ at not only opposing players, but often members of their own team.

The stakeholders help perpetuate this mindset by extolling ‘hardness’ as a trait that only ‘real men’ would be capable of expressing.

Richard Watts, founder of the Pink Magpies, a gay supporters group, has helped debunk the myth that football is only played and supported by straight people. With the support of Eddie McGuire, Collingwood acknowledged and encouraged the contribution of football’s most marginalized minority.

Watts believes that if the AFL consciously addresses homophobia in the code, it may help save many young men and women who take their own lives. In an article for Overland 166 he wrote: “creating an environment where gay players feel free and safe to come out will have the added effect of creating positive role models for young gays and lesbians.”

It is sadly ironic that Rugby League, perceived by some as a brutal and unforgiving arena of male power, could be the only code of football in Australia with an authentic historical relationship to a gay player.

AFL has proudly shown its ability to evolve and adapt to the social factors that shift and change in every generation. Racial vilification was rampant barely a decade ago. Facilities and the encouragement of female involvement have also improved.

On the issue of homosexuality, most people who love the game prefer to keep their head in the sand.

There are growing concerns about the talent pool in AFL football. Yet the AFL continues to fail to nurture and encourage, let alone acknowledge, that gay men play the game and often play it well. We can all play a role in bringing this aspect of the game into the 21st century.

The fact that the AFL has continued to turn a blind eye to this issue is queer in itself.


About Phillip Dimitriadis

Carer/Teacher/Writer. Author of Fandemic: Travels in Footy Mythology. World view influenced by Johnny Cash, Krishnamurti, Larry David, Toni Morrison and Billy Picken.

Comments

  1. Because of “queering the pitch”, perhaps?

    Fear rhymes with queer.

    Well, of course for love of the sport!

    Good on you, Roberts.

    And thank you for mentioning the Pink Magpies too.

    The Sydney Swans have a strong homosexual presence in the fan group at the very least.

  2. John Butler says:

    A interesting debate this one.

    Does the AFL really have such a blind spot regarding sexuality?

    Phil, it’s hard to argue with what you say.

    But as to the relevancy of Aker’s comments, the only lesson I really draw is beware of attention seekers nearing retirement.

  3. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Thanks AD and JB.

    What concerns me is that young gay men and women who read Aker’s comments and watch buffoons like Bill Brownless will retreat in fear. This issue is too serious to be flippant about. Young lives are at risk.

    The AFL needs to employ openly gay and lesbian people to promote the game across different communities. At best they have only paid lip service to the issue. Where are the gay and lesbian journos? Almanackers for that matter? I’m sure they exist and love the game.

    At the moment there are three levels of engagement in mainstream society. 1.Tolerate,2.Accept and 3 Embrace. The straight world is mostly still on level 1 and most of the homophobic rants on talkback and comments in the papers reflect Aker’s archaic postion. This is the biggest problem.

    People should be able to play and participate in a game they love without feeling ashamed of who they are.

  4. Phil – I might be sympathetic to your sentiment but I disagree with your method.

    Fistly – the AFL doesn’t need to employ anyone other than the right person for the job. To do otherwise is to engage in a form of social engineering which, I think, is exactly what you are arguing against. Social engineering has never worked and never will, because it doesn’t bring about acceptance, it only brings about resentment.

    Two – the gay and lesbian people have got to stop referring to themselves as a “commuity”. They are not a community, they are a PART of OUR community. Referring to themselves as a community implies saparation, it creates the “us v them” mentality, it is unproductive and and destructive.

    The only way to get true acceptance and tolerance of anyone in any comunity is for zealots to be discouraged.

  5. I think Aker is being painted the villain of the piece when all he did was voice an opinion on the state of play in the AFL. That being that he didn’t think that the AFL is ready for openly gay players yet.

    Interesting that he said he would feel uncomfortable in the showers. Given that is how most women would feel around many of the AFL’s finest in a nightclub. Without being involved in a top level club, but based on my own experiences with 3 clubs, I think that the overwhelming vibe is “blokey”. There is peer pressure to be one of the blokes. Generally meaning; work hard, play hard, go out, get drunk, pick up. Your manliness is based on your ability to do so.

    Where would the support come from in the AFL? Gareth Thomas and Ian Roberts came out at the end of their careers, having established their credentials at top level. If someone at the superstar level came out it would make it easier for a rookie to stand up in front of the club and do so, but I can’t see anyone feeling that the environment would be supportive.

  6. Dips, you could make the “community”/part of our community point about several groups.

    Thank you, Phil, for reminding us not to be (destructively) flippant. And the three levels: tolerate, accept, embrace.

    Gus, good point(s) about “blokey culture” and what it might entail.

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