When I was younger, I hated playing any kind of sport. I was short and fat until about 16 years old and the thought of getting my clothes off and kit on, let alone running around a pitch, made my stomach turn.
You might think a teenage boy would rather enjoy the prospect of getting nude and showering with the other lads – shy at first until unashamedly indulging in a spot of soaped-up knob comparison.
But alas no, I was much more interested in collecting Pokémon cards, playing my GameCube and doing the odd bit of cross stitch on a rainy weekend. As you can tell, my parents saw it coming.
Unfortunately, like most schools, PE was mandatory even for chubby losers like myself, and to add insult to injury, I was born and raised in the small market town and birthplace of the game, Rugby, in England. Let’s just say it’s not exactly the most unsporty place in the world.
So as the easy target I most spectacularly was, when I wasn’t skiving or literally hiding from my teachers, I was trying my best not to get tackled. However, now in my 20s, I’m beginning to see a whole new side to ball games.
“Sport really is more than just a game. For many, it’s a way of life.”
And no, by “ball games” I do not mean a newfound love of teabagging or a recent passion for big, smelly and hairy testicles slapping against my face. Come on, that’s been life-long.
I really do mean sports. Like soccer (or I should say football lest I want my dad to hunt me down and bludgeon me to death with a chin pad), rugby, Aussie rules, you know, blokey things. Things I never thought I’d be interested in.
Of course I can’t help but find a line up of huge muscular men, jumping and rolling around on each other wearing short shorts and tight Lycra shirts nothing but a bona fide boner alert, but homoeroticism aside, it’s probably got to do with one man.
A young man named Jason Ball from South Yarra, to be precise.
Footie player extraordinaire, according to his petition urging the AFL to finally start tackling the inbuilt and ingrown prejudice within the organisation, he has lived and breathed the sport since childhood.
When he was 12, he figured out he was gay. I think I was 12 when I started to realise I might be one of those homosexuals, but luckily for me, my life revolved around a completely different universe.
I had Will Truman, the café latte gay couple in Six Feet Under, Michael and co. from Queer as Folk. I had a gay uncle. Jason loved football but he had no gay role models to look up to, there were no out and proud high ranking players. There still aren’t.
He had passion, something I certainly lacked as a kid, but he also knew his passion would never embrace the people he would one day fall in love with. It would never embrace him as the person he was born to be. I’m not surprised he said it was “terrifying”.
But that didn’t stop him, it made him stronger. It gave him the ingenuity to tell the AFL that publically supporting the recent No to Homophobia campaign is only the beginning. It gave him the courage to show all the people he knows, and thousands of people he doesn’t, that he’s proud to be a gay sportsman.
Last night, when I signed my name to his petition, I was the 15,000th something signature. A news story from the Sydney Morning Herald a few hours previously reported there had been 7,000.
When douchebag extraordinaire Jason Akermanis tweeted “who cares?” in response to Jason Ball’s push for equality, surely the Twitter trend #WeCareJason is only testament to society’s enthusiasm for change?
And what about the recently published letter from American football player Chris Kluwe, vigorously and bloody marvelously defending another player, Brendon Ayanbadejo’s right to freedom of speech from a homophobic politician? Doesn’t that just make your heart sing?
It’s these recent revelations that are making me realise that perhaps sport really is more than just a game. It’s a multi-billion dollar organisation with phenomenal power. And for many, it’s a way of life.
Whether you’re a regular Sunday spectator or have never watched a game in your life, think about these brave men, publically standing up for the rights of millions of people they have never met. Think about what that means for you.
And to Jason Ball from South Yarra, I simply say this. You’ve got some fucking balls, mate.