Joining the fight against homophobia is a personal issue for Hawthorn’s Matt Spangher. In an interview with Bound For Glory, Spangher revealed that his sister is homosexual. His personal ties to the issue were the driving force behind his involvement in the AFLPA’s new video campaign against homophobia.
The real ‘Spangher’ in the works for homophobia are the “older heads with their different values” according to Spangher. Julia Gillard’s stance on gay marriage isn’t helping the AFL abandon their reluctance to join the fight against homophobia. Whilst it seems that the players and AFLPA are moving with the times, it’s Andrew Demetriou’s reluctance to implement a Pride Round that is really stopping the AFL from also moving forward. Spangher believes that a Pride Round is “worthwhile and achievable” in the near future.
Spangher is one of many AFL players involved in the new pledge against homophobia, with stars such as Jobe Watson, Jarrod Waite, Drew Petrie and Brock McLean all vowing to never utter a homophobic slur again. The campaign backs up IDAHO day, which on the 17th of May celebrated 23 years since the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality as a mental illness from their encyclopaedia.
It all started last year with homosexual amateur footballer, Jason Ball. The abhorred and all too easily thrown around slurs motivated Ball to create a petition against homophobia. Influential people like Demetriou and Jeff Kennett phoned Ball to voice their praise for his efforts. Ball ended up collaborating with the AFL in creating a series of anti-homophobia ads, screened during the 2012 AFL finals. Ball urged the AFL to stop “dipping their toe” in the anti-homophobic pool. Since their collaboration last year, the AFL hasn’t gotten any further than the “planning stages” for Pride Round.
The AFL players are stamping out homophobia with every leap and bound they take. CEO of Athlete Ally Hudson Taylor extended his plea. “Athletes are role models and heroes and if we can get an athlete or a team to speak out as an ally or out against homophobia, it will save lives, break down closets, and will go a long way in making sports everything we know it can be” Taylor said.
Whilst some may be sceptical that the support can save lives, you only have to look back to 1998 when Justin Fashanu’s lifeless body was found hanging from a noose in a London garage. Fashanu was the first ever black soccer player to be transferred for over a million pounds. He was also the first and only professional soccer player to publically come out of the closet. Fashanu was slandered and tormented by the media and worse still; his brother, John, publically voiced his shame and disbelief surrounding his brother’s sexuality.
John came forward last year, 14 years after Justin’s death and 22 years after Justin came out of the closet to say that he didn’t believe Justin was gay. John said in an interview with ‘The Telegraph’ that Justin was purely after publicity.
Times have changed. Society has progressed. Homophobia is dated and now a minority view. Coming out is no longer as dangerous as it once was in western cultures. Taylor received “very little criticism” when he began speaking out against homophobia. There’s been no publicised backlash against the AFLPA’s campaign nor the proposed Pride Round.
The time is right for the AFL to reinforce the anti-homophobia message. It is their responsibility to ensure the players feel safe and secure enough to be open with their sexuality. The entire football culture must be united against homophobia to avoid another tragedy like Fashanu’s suicide. The buck stops with the AFL. Pride Round must be instated and more effort must be placed in following the great work of Jason Ball and the AFLPA.