It’s a question that more and more people are asking, as sexuality is spoken about more and more in the media.
There are so many different types of sexual orientation from heterosexual through to asexual, homosexual, bisexual and more.
A person’s chosen sexuality is becoming more and more accepted by society, yet at present, there are no AFL players who have ‘come out’ about being bisexual.
Why is this?
In 2016, the National Drug Strategy Household Survey estimated that 3.2% of the adult population in Australia identified as homosexual or bisexual.
Given these numbers, it’s highly likely that an AFL player or two would fall into this category, but are choosing to keep their sexuality private.
The choice to “come out” about sexuality
The way in which an AFL player identifies with sexually is entirely their choice and their life. It’s completely understandable for them to choose to keep this separate and private.
It’s no secret that the media likes to pick up on these issues and highlight them, which might be the last thing a player wants to be known for.
After all, they should be recognised for their skills on the sports field and not for their preferences in their private life. It’s important to respect people’s choices whether to come out or not.
We have seen this movement take off a lot more in American sports people.
Robbie Rogers, a midfielder for the Los Angeles Galaxy made headlines in 2013 when he came out. A few months later, Jason Collins, NBA center did the same. Then in 2014, NFL defensive Michael Sam also did the same.
As you might expect, there were hopes that this trend would lead the way in more and more sportspeople embracing and opening up about their sexuality and making it the norm.
Yet the “wave” ended there. There wasn’t even a trickle of more athletes coming out.
So, why are these athletes, including AFL players, choosing not to come out? While it’s important to respect their decision, we can dive in a little further to understand it better.
Why are athletes choosing not to come out?
There are so many pressures that come from being a professional athlete, we can only try to understand them all. Just like you wouldn’t necessarily think to open up to your boss about your sexuality, many AFL players likely feel the same.
Here are some of the reasons athletes are choosing not to come out:
1) Wrong type of attention
As a professional athlete, the attention should be on the game and their skills, not on their sexual preferences. Coming out in front of a national audience would detract from this and likely cause the wrong type of attention.
It doesn’t mean these players are ashamed of their sexuality. Instead, they see it as a non-issue that has nothing to do with the game of AFL – and they’re right. While we might like to think there would be no repercussions for coming out as an AFL player, research tends to suggest otherwise.
As a society, we still are there when it comes to 100% acceptance. Until we are, it’s understandable while players would want to keep tight-lipped.
2) Media attention
Have you ever been the centre of a media scandal and seen your face splashed everywhere?
It’s probably very unlikely you have, which is why it’s hard to understand the choice these AFL players are making. We have never walked in their shoes.
While being the face of a gay movement might sound good in theory, when it’s your face and private life splashed through the media, it’s a lot to take in.
The truth is, the media doesn’t always get things right. And they don’t always paint things in the best light.
Opening up and coming out takes a huge degree of trust. You’re trusting the media to paint your story in the correct way – and there’s no way of knowing this. A gay AFL player might prefer to stay out of the spotlight to avoid placing their career in the media’s hand.
3) The fans
While the LGBT movement has definitely taken stride in recent years, there’s no way to tell how the fans will react to the news.
While we can probably predict that the majority wouldn’t have an issue, there is still the minority who might feel differently. And the minority tend to have the loudest voices.
In fact, it was rugby player Israel Folau who is the best example. In 2019, the fullback made an anti-gay comment on social media (not for the first time), stating that gays will go to hell.
“Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent,” he wrote on Instagram. “Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.”
While Rugby Australia acted in the right manner and terminated his position, it shows we have a long way to come before being gay is accepted. It’s not even accepted in the sports world yet, let alone the wider community.
4) The coaches
Think about how you would feel coming out to your boss and waiting to hear their response. Or even just your manager you work with every single day. It’s nerve-wracking!
For AFL players, this is their entire career. It doesn’t matter how accepting their coach might be, the fear of the unknown is real and enough to keep their lips sealed.
If being gay doesn’t affect their performance (which it clearly doesn’t), then why is it something they should have to bring up in the first place?
The same goes for any workplace out there. Is it necessary to be opening up about your sexuality when it has no direct impact on what you’re capable of?
While it would be nice to live in a world where people don’t bat an eyelid about being gay, we’re not quite there yet.
While marriage equality in 2017 was a momentous feat, there’s still plenty more to be done. The “Yes” responses accounted for 61.6% of the population, according to the chief statistician of the Australian Bureau of Statistics. While this figure is great and got the right results, it means we still have a fair way to go.
5) Their career
Believe it or not, many players would choose not to come out for the sake of their careers.
Put aside the media. Put aside their coaches. Put aside their fans.
What about their career? What would happen if their coach turned around and didn’t want to work with them anymore? What if their team didn’t want to play alongside them?
While we have come a long way when it comes to LGBT rights, we still have a long way to go towards equality and breaking down barriers and there’s no way of predicting the effect of coming out gay. Why?
Because no one (bar one) has. It’s a huge ask to lead the way when it comes to being open about your sexuality as a professional sportsman, and understandable why many wouldn’t want to take that on.
6) Homophobic slurs
It’s clear that in order to bring about social change, it just has to happen.
We have to leave all these reasons discussed above behind and encourage more and more players to come out. It’s this camaraderie that will change the course of history and see sexuality as a non-issue that isn’t even worth mentioning. And this all starts in the locker room.
The biggest concern for many gay athletes is how their teammates will see them. How their teammates will treat them after they hear the news.
A sports team is so much more than a sports team. They become a family throughout their career. Many gay people find it hard enough coming out to their immediate family.
Imagine the pressure of coming out to an entire team who are like brothers to you. It’s so hard to predict how everyone will react and feel.
That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of AFL players out there who may already know of a teammate’s sexuality. But it’s one thing to guess and another to actually know.
Breaking through gay stereotypes
If you want to pinpoint another reason that gay athletes are prominent in the media, it’s thanks to the gay stereotypes that are commonplace in society.
While it’s true that acceptance for other sexualities is becoming more and more common, it’s hard to break down years and years of stereotypes. We have a huge anti-gay history behind us, which is still very prominent in many different religions. This takes time and effort.
So, what are these stereotypes? The biggest one is around their lack of masculinity. There’s the belief that gay men are weaker than straight men. It’s something that is drilled in from a young age – or at least was until recent years. Think about your own childhood and some of the taunts that were thrown out when playing with friends.
“Gay is soft”.
“Gay is weak”.
“Gay isn’t manly”.
This isn’t an image that a professional sports player wants to give off to anyone. It doesn’t matter how untrue these statements are, the fact that they exist and are commonplace is a huge issue. It’s a giant barrier standing in the way for many of our gay athletes.
LGBTQ discrimination and exclusion in sport
It was only last year, in 2020, that a report was released by Monash University looking at discrimination towards LGBTQ men in professional sport.
It found that sports organizations still place a low priority on addressing exclusion and discrimination by LGBTQ people.
Two international studies have taken place recently that show this discriminatory behaviour is still very much an issue today- despite many thinking that’s not the case.
It seems we like to think we are understanding and accepting, but aren’t quite there yet.
Is it any wonder AFL players don’t want to come out?
AFL players who have come out over the years
“I’m gay,” he wrote in an essay published by Professional Footballers Australia, the players’ union. “It’s incredible saying that now; it feels amazing. And weirdly, it doesn’t feel like a big deal. Really in 2019, it shouldn’t be.
“But I couldn’t be happier that despite taking so long, ruminating over this decision for so many years and being entirely unsure about myself, I can finally come out and say it.”
In coming out, he joined Ian Roberts who was rugby league’s first Aussie, and Australia’s first sportsman, to come out while still playing in 1995.
Yet, there are so many more AFL players staying tight-lipped on the issue.
According to Jack Vidgen, a star on Australia’s “I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here”, he personally knows at least 10 or 12 AFL players who are gay.
Support for gay AFL players
The fact is, we aren’t going to see any change unless the right support is put in place for these players.
This support needs to come from coaches, managers, fans, teammates, and society as a whole, but in order to get there, we need to end the discrimination, exclusion, and stereotypes, so that being gay becomes a non-issue.
It’s not something that will happen overnight.
Which AFL players are gay?
Who knows! And more importantly, who cares. It’s their sexual preference that has nothing to do with how they play the game.
Let’s just keep the game on the field and worry about which players are performing the best. After all, that’s what professional AFL should be all about.
Once being gay is no longer an issue, we will see more and more players coming out. Until then, let’s break down the barriers and create a world where it’s OK for them to be who they are.
A world of acceptance.