Our great game of Australian Football – Jason Ball (the gay one) leading the way
Jason Ball is in town. Not the former Eagle and Swan but the Jason Ball who played for the Victorian Yarra Glen Football Club, retiring in 2015, aged 27.
Jason is in Sydney and will be marching with Pride in Sport during this weekend’s Mardi Gras Parade, Australia’s first and only sporting inclusion program with a focus on the LGBTI community.
March seems to be our wettest month. The intermittent rain – heavy at times – is certainly needed, following the hottest summer on record in Sydney, and as Mardi Gras approaches my thoughts always turn to the thousands of visitors who flock to our great city – and the weather. Not again! They’ll be drenched! Poor people, why does it always rain on their Parade? Fortunately the weather gods kept them dry on Saturday night.
I don’t think Jason Ball would be too concerned about a few rain drops; the rainbow flag and what it stands for in 2017 would, I imagine, be at the forefront of his mind this weekend.
Jason came out as a gay man in 2012; nothing too surprising there, except that he was the first Australian Football male player to publicly do so. That takes courage, even in today’s climate, when a person’s sexuality is not as scrutinized as it once was. Society doesn’t seem to mind too much when a woman declares her lesbianism – even as a footballer – as highlighted in Samantha Lane’s The Age article a few weeks back which told of the first openly gay elite football playing couple, Collingwood’s Penny Cula-Reid and Melbourne’s Mia-Rae Clifford, but being gay and a sportsman is still very much taboo. Unfortunately.
Reading the article at the time reminded me of Queen Victoria’s reign; she didn’t believe women could be lesbians and therefore it wasn’t illegal, whereas it was certainly a different story for men.
After completing a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne in 2010, this courageous young man, Jason Ball, has gone on to become a national figurehead for tackling homophobia in sport and an ambassador for beyondblue. He was included in The Age‘s 100 most influential Melburnians of 2012 and was amongst the Top 25 Most Notable Comings Out of 2012, in the American LGBTI magazine The Advocate. He was also named LGBTI Sports Person of the Year at the second annual GLOBE Community Awards in 2015, which recognise outstanding contributions and achievements in the LGBTI community in Victoria. In addition, he was a finalist for LGBTI Person of the Year at the same event.
In May 2016 the University of Melbourne presented Jason with the Arts Alumni Rising Star Award recognising his “outstanding level of personal achievement and community involvement”, and the Council of Australian Humanist Societies honoured his advocacy within mental health and LGBTI equality by naming him the Young Australian Humanist of the Year for 2016.
Whilst in town Jason visited the Sydney headquarters of the Swans last week and spoke of last year’s inaugural Pride Game between Sydney and St Kilda, a watershed round that he believes could become a beacon for an AFL-listed player who may want to follow the same path.
“(The game) is a powerful example and a symbol of acceptance coming from a place where you’d expect it the least – in the world of AFL,” he explained to Luke McManus on the Swans website.
“Some people often view the issue of sexuality in sport as not relevant, the issue is invisible and not talked about.
“That’s problematic when there’s statistics showing just how unsafe and unwelcome people from that community feel at the footy.
“To be visible and proactive in being accepting, regardless of one’s sexuality, and embracing sexuality is definitely the way to go.”
Jason says he is proud of what the Swans and Saints are doing to help promote inclusion and diversity, but says more can be done in a broader sense to use sport as a means to drive cultural change.
“Historically, sport hasn’t played a big role within the LGBTI community because it has been so often associated with homophobia,” he added.
“Sport is a great thing for a person’s mental health, whether it’s the physical activity from playing or social aspects, there are a lot of benefits. To be excluded from that just further compounds the negative health outcomes they experience.
“In the same way sport has made a lot of progress and has been a leader in tackling racism, Indigenous reconciliation and engaging with multicultural communities, I think the same thing can be done in reaching out to the LGBTI community.”
The Sydney Swans are exploring a number of ways to promote inclusion and diversity and this year the Club’s official LGBTI supporter group, the Rainbow Swans, launched their first official membership – a move Ball has applauded.
“It’s a really special thing and should be embraced by all clubs.”
The Swans full article: http://www.sydneyswans.com.au/news/2017-03-04/ball-it-can-be-powerful
There have been several mentions in Footy Almanac these past weeks about why men still obviously find it too difficult to come out whilst playing as professional sportsmen – especially footy players – but hopefully one day soon this will change.
I, for one, would like to see more Jason Balls in our community.