AFL Players have taken a pledge against homophobic language to highlight the damaging effects it can have within sport and the community.
To mark IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia) on Friday 17 May, the AFL Players’ Association is running a social media campaign titled Footy4IDAHO.
IDAHO commemorates the day homosexuality was removed from the International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organisation in 1990.
AFL players will feature in a video making a pledge stating their commitment not to use homophobic language and to stand up to those who do.
The AFL Players’ Association is asking fans to also take this pledge and share the message via social media.
It is the second time the AFL Players’ Association has supported this concept. Players shared a similar anti-homophobia message across social media platforms in 2009, with an emphasis on fostering a culture of inclusion at all times.
— Essendon FC (@Essendon_FC) May 17, 2013
The 2013 campaign, which has a particular focus on highlighting the negative impact of homophobic language, was born out a presentation given by GLBTI advocate Jason Ball to all first year players at the AFL Players’ Induction Camp.
Ball, who is the first footballer to publicly state he is gay, spoke of the hurt homophobic language had and how it added to his reluctance to reveal his true self. Ball’s stance, along with the hit song by American artist Macklemore – Same Love, prompted the Players’ Association to initiate this campaign.
— Michael Barlow (@mbarlow21) May 15, 2013
Ball and Carlton footballer Brock McLean, who spoke out earlier this year in support of his sister who is gay, have been drivers of this campaign.McLean was motivated to speak out against homophobia in sport after seeing how his sister was treated when she came out.
“It gets back to basic human rights. Everyone has a right to be treated equally,” McLean said.
“The way some people looked at her and the way some people treated her like a second class citizen made me sick.
“This campaign to raise awareness of homophobia in society and in sport but also the little things that we use in our language, like ‘that’s gay’ or ‘you’re gay’…And reminding people that those little phrases that we use makes a big difference to some people.”
— Heath Evans (@HeathEvans) May 14, 2013
McLean is the first AFL player to speak out publically against homophobia and he says the AFL community has been extremely supportive of his stance, demonstrating “a massive step in our quest for change,” he said.
“Obviously you get the one or two idiots that give you stick on social media, but they have been clearly the minority.
“I think the more people we get talking about it, for example we have seen Jason Collins come out in the States in the NBA and the support we saw from the whole world was fantastic so that’s a strong and powerful message for anyone in AFL or any other team sport.”
Ball, who plays for the Yarra Glen Football Club, revealed to the community he was gay in 2012 and he has since become a leading advocate for change towards GLBTI people within sport and the community.
He says the leadership shown by McLean has been “huge” and would have made “the world of difference” to him as a young man grappling with his sexuality.
“There are a lot of kids who realise they are gay and because of the language that people use it feels like you are put into a box and you are automatically made to feel like you are bad or wrong and you have to get the message out there that, that is not the case,” Ball said.
“Young kids who are gay are six times more likely to suffer from depression or consider suicide so there is a sense of urgency to speak out about this. We have to create, especially in sport, a more welcoming environment because at the moment it is a hostile world and a lot of work needs to be done to shift that culture.”
McLean says there has never been an issue with homophobic language being used at his football club but says it is not enough to refrain from using homophobic terms, it’s also about having the courage to tell people “hey listen, that is not on.”
I'm taking the pledge to never use homophobic language. Think before you speak it's time to stop shirking the issue #footy4idaho
— Lenny hayes (@Len_hayes) May 17, 2013
Ball says he has noticed a significant shift in the sort of language used at his football club since he revealed his sexuality.
“Using the word gay is synonymous to mean bad or weak or soft; that was constant. It was a constant reminder to me that I wasn’t going to be accepted because there was something wrong with me,” he said.
“The boys around my club at Yarra Glen have been incredible. They really did transform the way they talked after they knew that I was gay because
I was one of their mates and they didn’t want to say anything that was going to hurt me.
“It was the biggest thing that caused me anxiety and made me want to stay in the closet because I was scared of how I would be received.”
— AFL Players (@AFLPlayers) May 14, 2013
McLean believes the key to inclusion and acceptance is education and cites the progress AFL has made with racism as an example of how it has been the vehicle to create change within society.
“We have stamped racial vilification right out of the game and it shouldn’t be any different than homophobia,” McLean said.
Ball agrees and says the leadership sport and in this instance AFL players, has shown has “ripple effects”.
“I think we have come a really long way and it is important to recognise the role sport has played in that.
“The work the AFL did in tackling racism and creating an inclusive place in the game for Indigenous players has helped shift the culture more broadly because AFL is such a powerhouse in society.”
“I’d like to see a Brock McLean at every football club and every sporting group around Australia, I think the leadership he has shown really has a positive effect and I think in five years’ time hopefully you’ve got players prepared to be open about their sexuality and it is not a big deal.
— Jill Stark (@jillastark) May 13, 2013
AFL Players’ Association CEO Matt Finnis says the support of IDAHO is not just about change within football but society as a whole. Given the position of AFL players within the community, they have the power to initiate change.
“IDAHO Day is not only important as an industry, it is important for all of society to embrace,” Finnis said.
“We are in a unique situation whereby we have the opportunity to use this day as a vehicle to promote the importance and power of language, while also creating an inclusive environment.
“The inclusiveness and diversity of the AFL industry, with open opportunities regardless of background and race is what makes this game rich.”