It’s not a new topic in Australian Rules and indeed sport all over the world, but our own brand of football now has a player speaking out on behalf of gay footballers.
The player comes in the form of Carlton midfielder Brock McLean, opening up about his younger sister Ellie McLean’s own personal struggle with her sexuality, similar to what a number of gay people have had to deal with.
The story published in The Age went into detail about Ms McLean and her partner Tenille Cann’s struggle with falling in love dealing with the fear of how friends and family would react.
In a conversation between Brock and Ellie McLean, Brock was happy for his sister because she was happy with who she was. He also went on to say that the fact that there are no ‘out’ footballers at elite level could be a reflection of the sporting community not making gays feel welcome and accepted, even calling for the AFL’s support.
“The AFL needs to adopt a total zero-tolerance policy from grassroots footy right up to the elite level. If there’s anyone yelling homophobic taunts, those people should be banned from footy for life,” McLean stated.
“You hear, ‘you weak poof, you faggot’ from supporters who use it as a term for someone who might go in soft or might not be as hard at the ball, which is just mind-blowing because it’s totally irrelevant and totally far from the truth.”
McLean also suggested that players who take part in such banter should be fined, suspended and made an example of.
There aren’t enough words to state what a service just one single AFL-level player stating their support for sexuality equality means for the gay sporting community. McLean, who is the first top-league footballer to publically show his support for gay equality, has committed an act so important that he may not understand the size.
This is the first step to showing players and officials that being gay is not a negative thing and that those working at the top football level are accepting of gay people.
The general understanding is that roughly between 5% and 10% of the Australian population is gay, or have at least come to terms with their sexuality. With this number in mind, it’s staggering that of all the AFL-listed players, totalling a number over 800, none are openly gay.
Although it’s unlikely that any AFL footballer will come out on the back of this story, hopefully what McLean has managed to do is the start of a big change from grassroots football all the way up to the elite level of AFL. If more players can follow in McLean’s path and the fear of becoming an outcast as a result of being an openly gay footballer is diminished, chances are we will see an AFL footballer proudly proclaim their homosexuality.
Unfortunately, there will always be people in crowds that choose sexuality as a target. However, if the AFL can continue on with the new-found support from Brock McLean and Jason Ball, who has done some magnificent work towards changing homophobic mindsets since coming out to his grassroots teammates, we can slowly but surely stamp out this behaviour.
Homophobia is much like where racism in sport was not too long ago. All you need to do is have a look at the numerous campaigns against racism in sport, supported by major sporting leagues, to see how much of a success they have been. Yes, there are still those that choose to target a player’s nationality, but the numbers have significantly decreased.
Hopefully this is the beginning of a new mindset in AFL circles. If the AFL can also get behind this cause and show support for gay equality, our game can emerge from the dark ages and allow gay sports players, officials and supporters to simply be themselves without the fear that comes with possibly becoming an outcast.