Gay players who come out will have the AFL’s full support, says its Chief Executive Andrew Demetriou.
Speaking at the launch of Taking the Tackle – a program that aims to improve respect for women in the Australian Football League – Demetriou sought to assure AFL supporters of its inclusiveness following speculation that some players were gay but too scared to come out.
Jeff Kennett, head of mental health support organisation Beyond Blue, says that he believes as many as 1 in 20 players in the league may be gay, and that they live in fear of outing themselves due to social and media pressures.
The AFL has long come under fire, especially in recent years, including from the queer community advocates who see it as one of the last bastions of socially sanctioned homophobia, until recently offering little protection for any gay player who decides to come out.
Demetriou says the AFL leads the way in implementing anti-vilification programs that cover the spectrum of gender, race and religion, and includes an anti-homophobia program featuring out gay former Olympic swimmer Daniel Kowalski.
According to Demetriou, AFL players had been shown a video featuring Kowalski talking about the issues surrounding his decision to come out publically as gay.
Kowalski told Nine News that there has been ‘a witch hunt’ to ‘out’ a player for a number of years, with media and public eager to expose sportspeople’s private lives.
Western Bulldog defender Bob Murphy agrees, telling The Age there’s a “sick fascination” with how many AFL players are gay.
Demetriou highlights that coming out is a personal decision and still a matter of personal choice. “But if a player wanted to make it public about his sexual preference then he would get absolutely nothing but support from the AFL, and nothing but support from everyone in the industry,” he assured.
“I’m really proud of the way that the AFL family embraces people whatever background they’ve got… I think you’re going to be very surprised by the reaction you’ll find in this particular industry and this family.”