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Brian Taylor affair: time to call out casual bigotry

Brian Taylor's apology missed the point.

Brian Taylor's apology missed the point.

You couldn’t escape the irony on Saturday night that one of Australia’s greatest sporting heroes, Ian Thorpe, had publicly revealed his homosexuality coinciding with an AFL commentator deriding a player as “a big poofter”.

And the immediate reactions to both events were instructive. The news about Thorpe prompted for the most part a “who cares?” response on social media. Brian Taylor’s comments about Geelong defender Harry Taylor, meanwhile, received widespread condemnation.

That should be a good sign that homosexuality is these days, for a bulk of particularly younger Australians, a non-issue. Sadly, the next 24 hours seem only to have confirmed that it is still a contentious subject.

Incidents such as Taylor’s comments tend to follow the same pattern. There’s the initial outrage, and demands for the perpetrator’s sacking. There’s an apology of sorts. Then the backlash.

The latter was evident in readers'  comments on media websites on Sunday. You know the sort. “Political correctness gone mad.” “Just a joke.” “Harden up.” and the timeless “Get a life”, the sort of all-occasions dismissal that refuses to actually engage in reasoned debate or argument.

And subsequent to that, complaint from those rightly aggrieved by the initial remarks that Channel Seven’s decision to censure Taylor and support him “through counselling and education” isn’t punitive enough.

Unfortunately, all the name calling and finger-waving from either side of the argument often seems to end up overshadowing the actual point. Which, in this case, is that casual homophobia, whatever the context, can’t co-exist with a sport that wishes to present itself as not only tolerant, but inclusive.

I actually don’t think Taylor is as homophobic as some suggest. He and I have been  part of a radio discussion about homosexuality, during which his attitude was compassionate and supportive of gay rights. He has had someone close to him go through the similar struggle for acceptance and understanding most gays experience at some level.

His view, however, seems to be that that relationship and those private opinions in a sense legitimise a different public face and mocking use of gay slurs. They don’t, of course. And this hopefully represents another opportunity for him, his co-callers, indeed all of us, to take on board why a word such as  “poofter” is unacceptable in any context.

Taylor’s subsequent apology missed the point, which wasn’t just about offence to Harry Taylor, his family and friends, but offence to any gay person hearing the crass slang for their sexual orientation used in such a derisive and pejorative fashion. Indeed, has the “P” word ever been used in a positive sense?

His fellow panellists, via their embarrassed giggling after the remark, missed a chance to remind him of that, for which they’ve also been chastised. Mind you, many people placed in a similar situation may not necessarily have reacted any differently.

Haven’t most us, whether it’s racism, sexism, homophobia, any sort of bigotry, at some time kept quiet when in the presence of such unpalatable talk rather than create a scene? I know I have. I’m certainly not proud of it, either.

But I’d like to think episodes such as Saturday night's help me and others decide instead to call out such examples for what they are, simply not good enough in a supposed contemporary and just society.

That’s what, to its and their credit, The Footy Show audience and Sam Newman’s co-hosts, Garry Lyon and James Brayshaw, did recently when their agent provocateur expressed his displeasure at gay US footballer Michael Sam publicly kissing his boyfriend upon being drafted to the NFL.

Australian football has in the past couple of years made more progress on the question of sexuality than ever before.

The AFL earlier this year signed up to an anti-homophobia in sport initiative. A number of past and present AFL players, including Carlton’s Brock McLean, have actively supported gay rights since local league player Jason Ball two years ago came out, the first player at any level to talk openly about his sexuality.

In May, I was contacted by another local footballer, Rhyian Anderson-Morley, who wanted to write a piece about the “good, bad and ugly” of being a gay man playing an unremittingly macho sport.

At first, Anderson-Morley, who hadn’t come out to more than a handful of teammates, wanted to remain anonymous. After much thought, he decided to attach his name to his opinion in The Age. The response was encouragingly positive.

One of the most telling points Rhyian made in his story was about the hurtful impact of casual homophobia from people he otherwise respected. The sorts of examples of which Saturday night was another.

They’re the sort of incidents that help answer the question about why no AFL player has yet publicly revealed their homosexuality.

The more that sportsmen the calibre of Thorpe feel comfortable enough to identify as homosexual, the more fans of all sports become more likely to become participants. And the more we make them feel like their sexual orientation can be hijacked as a synonym for something distasteful, the more we scare them away again.

Continued reason is preferable to rancour in the process of helping AFL football shrug its more Neanderthal stereotypes. But it’s no less important that when we see evidence of those, all of us continue to call them out for what they are, and immediately they happen.

104 comments so far

  • Not good enough Brian - but take heart mate - live and learn and get back on the horse. You are a great commentator and from what I have seen a great bloke. Think about it, learn, grow, go get 'em!

    Commenter
    Rajrpm
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    July 13, 2014, 6:31PM
    • Definitely shouldn't be an accident this day in age. Never heard of the guy till I read the article.. Sounds like the type that would say that as well. It is time to end discrimination.

      Commenter
      The Other Guy1
      Date and time
      July 13, 2014, 7:59PM
    • Such comments are not an accident nor acceptable. They show a deep seated attitude to the sexual identification of people. It is an attack on at least 10% of the population. Because he says sorry is like letting off someone who says they shouldn't have a lynched a black man because they didn't realise they are just like us. The AFL should insist that when it comes to broadcasting rights they will reserve the right to refuse even the best bidder if they employ people like BT. Clearly he is a dinosaur and needs to go their way.

      Commenter
      the Truth
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      July 13, 2014, 9:04PM
    • @the truth,

      at least 10% of the population? where did you get that from? it may be fashionable to glorify significance or importance of gay rights, but let's not go twisting facts already......

      Commenter
      ddcc
      Date and time
      July 13, 2014, 11:34PM
    • Comments such as this are never accidents. Under stress and in the excitement of the moment people often revert to 'type'. There may be a bigger problem than Rajrpm may realize from his "mate".

      Commenter
      Big Al
      Location
      Monty
      Date and time
      July 14, 2014, 8:20AM
    • A great commentator and seems to be a great bloke? The way he speaks to his fellow commentators is disgraceful. Nothing short of bullying. Now I turn the sound down when he's on. Ego is a dirty word.

      Commenter
      Paul
      Date and time
      July 14, 2014, 9:11AM
    • Simply - the best thing that has happened is that he is being called on it. Publicly humiliated. That's a good thing because it was wrong and ignorant. He does not need to be hanged for it. He and others like him will learn (again) that it's not right and not on. Let him take the lesson and learn what's right and wrong.

      Commenter
      Rajrpm
      Date and time
      July 14, 2014, 12:28PM
    • To ddcc
      Before making comments like you did, do some research.

      It is a pretty well established statistic held by many medicos that perhaps 10% of the population is in fact Gay.
      And who cares anyway - we are all human beings enjoying hopefully the time we spend on this beautiful planet but it is so sad that roughly 10% of our nation (and the world) do not share the same rights that straight people do.
      I wonder what your attitude to others who think the way you do, would be, if you were born Gay?

      Commenter
      soldier
      Date and time
      July 14, 2014, 1:00PM
  • I have found over the many years in public life, the most outspoken and abusive often have to look at themselves.

    I do not accept Seven allowing this man a slap on the wrist. He needs to be suspended the same as others in similar situations have.

    Commenter
    tashman
    Location
    melb
    Date and time
    July 13, 2014, 7:05PM
    • It seems that many people where not gay about Brian's choice of words.

      Commenter
      micko
      Date and time
      July 13, 2014, 7:14PM

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