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AFL Players’ join Pride March

Four high-profile AFL players joined approximately 30,000 people in Sunday’s Pride March – an annual event that celebrates the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community. Carlton’s Brock McLean and Richmond’s Daniel Jackson took part in the march in 2013 and have voiced their support for the cause again this year.

McLean and Jackson were joined by St Kilda players Jarryn Geary and Sam Gilbert at Sunday’s Pride March – they’re rivals on the footy field, but were united while marching shoulder to shoulder down Fitzroy Street in St Kilda.

The players marched alongside Jason Ball, a gay footballer who plays for Yarra Glen and has become a spokesperson and role model within the gay community.

Ball was one of the driving forces behind AFL Players’ successful IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia) campaign last year. Many of the game’s stars – including Jobe Watson, Lenny Hayes, Jarrad Waite, Drew Petrie and Leigh Montagna – took the pledge to never use homophobic language again and to challenge those who do. The campaign reached more than 1.2 million Twitter accounts and almost one million people via Facebook.

That momentum influenced the footy landscape in ways we’d never seen before. Jason Ball appeared as a guest on AFL 360 – alongside AFL Players’ Association CEO Matt Finnis – which prompted an emotive response from host Mark Robinson in the next day’s Herald Sun.

“This bloke had been subjected to homophobic slurs, being called a poof, and a faggot, and, yes, a homo for who knows how long, and I didn’t have a problem with it,” Robinson wrote.

“When Ball sat next to me in the ad break and offered a handshake, I was embarrassed. To the point of being ashamed.”

The change in Robinson’s mentality reflected a shift in perception from many within the wider football community.

Robinson’s piece was not an end-point but, like Sunday’s march, another step towards equality and inclusiveness within AFL and the wider football community.

IDAHO is still a few months away (May 17) but the AFL Players’ Association is again looking forward to being involved, to continue to enforce the notion that there is no place in the game – or in society generally – for prejudice. It’s a message players like Brock McLean, Daniel Jackson, Jarryn Geary and Sam Gilbert are proud to be spruiking.