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Should gay Australian sports people really feel the need to come out?

With pressure tacitly applied by society and the media for sports stars to be out and proud if they’re gay, we question why only one single player in any major football code in Australia has ever come out, why another one hasn’t 22 years later, and whether they need to.

We live in an age where the majority of the Australian population are OK with the existence of openly gay people; hell, it appears the majority of the country even believes in marriage equality. So why is it that only one single player in any major football code here, while playing, has ever come out?

Plenty of pressure is applied by the media for the second gay scalp to be announced, the talk was again rife last year when in August it was discussed in AFL footy forums that a Collingwood player was to be the first AFL player to come. This chat does the rumour mill each year like clockwork and like every year before, no player did decide to disclose to the public that they were gay. It does pose the devil’s advocate question: do they need to come out if they are gay?

Ian Roberts, the tough as nails brutal front-rower for Manly famously came out in 1995 during his playing days. At the time, it was envisaged that this would open the flood gates for more closeted players – feeling greater acceptance from the Rugby League community after this first instance – to follow. I don’t know Roberts personally, so I can’t comment on the benefits or otherwise that may have come from this disclosure, but 22 years on and there has yet to be a single other NRL player to publicly state that they are gay.

In the United States, we have seen Robbie Rogers become the first openly gay soccer player in Major League Soccer history (and the first for any of the five major North American sports leagues). Through this process, Rogers has not only built himself a dedicated fan base in LA (he plays for the LA Galaxy), but has also developed a huge profile across the US and world for that matter. This has given him the platform to be outspoken on all LGBTI rights including marriage and adoption.

Mitchell Sam became the first NFL draft pick to declare his homosexuality, and although there were members of the NFL community that voiced their outrage (read: clutched pearls), the response from the game and its fans was overwhelmingly positive.

In diving, we’ve seen the likes of Greg Louganis – who not only came out as gay but also HIV positive – strive and lead the way. Other out and proud divers include Tom Daly from Britain and Australia’s Mathew Helm and Matthew Mitcham.

I could go on and on, but the question I feel we should be asking is twofold:

  1. Could our national football codes do any more to make gay players feel comfortable to come out?
  2. Are we, the supporters of gay athletes, putting too much pressure on them to come out when to be frank, it’s really none of our business?

All major football codes are signatories of the Pride in Sport Index (PID). This is an independently administered benchmarking system that monitors the LGBTI programs within sporting code. In essence, this is to keep the codes in check to ensure they are providing inclusion for players, staff, spectators and officials. With this in mind, you would have to imagine that on face value anyway, the answer to question one is very positive.

So when it comes to question two, do we expect more of the player than what he is actually being paid to do? By urging a player to come out, are we then going to thrust him into a position of being a role model for our community? A position he may not be ready for, or perhaps one not even wanted to be had.

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