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Gays a 'cold topic' for AFL

Jason Akermanis, whose 'closet' comments provoked a backlash.

Jason Akermanis, whose 'closet' comments provoked a backlash. Photo: Colleen Petch

THE AFL's effort to combat homophobia became "too hard" after a campaign to promote inclusiveness backfired, a former boss of the Players' Association said.

Pippa Grange, the AFLPA's manager of culture and leadership until 2010, said the backlash to an article by the controversial retired player Jason Akermanis that she commissioned in her final months in the job was the low point of her seven years work in the sport.

Dr Grange, who now consults to Geelong on cultural matters within the club, told The Sunday Age that the effort to tackle homophobia was ''dropped" following heated reaction to the episode.

After leading a campaign against homophobia in early 2010, in which coaches and players were photographed holding placards advocating diversity, Dr Grange was eager to broaden the discussion using Akermanis. She enlisted the Brownlow medallist to write a column on homophobia.

But after working closely with him on the subject, the piece ran in News Ltd newspapers with the headline ''Stay in the Closet''.

''The topic got dropped,'' Dr Grange said. ''That was a real lowlight for me. It was put to bed as a 'too hard' topic after being opened up. It wasn't closed down by the AFL as such but it went to the bottom of a very long list of things that the AFL are asked to work on. So I was disappointed that it had been something so positive that became a cold topic.

''What disappointed me so much was that people who I know are well-intentioned, and may have been willing to go with the conversation, turned right off the conversation. I can only reflect on my error … that I didn't invest the time in bringing people along enough, before we hit a crisis.

''It needed a lot more voices in the conversation and commitments from all over the place.

''I had commitment from the players and the PA, and we'd started a steering group at the AFL, but it was really in its infancy.''

There are more than 750 players listed with AFL clubs and none are openly gay.

Last year, Dr Helen Szoke incensed the AFL's chief executive, Andrew Demetriou, after she accused the league of stalling on a promise to combat homophobia. Dr Szoke, then commissioner of Victoria's Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, said the organisation had been invited by the AFL to join a group to consider related issues, but lamented: ''It doesn't appear that that has necessarily been followed up with any public activity.''

A 2010 study by Victoria University, Come Out to Play, found the AFL was perceived to be the least-friendly environment for homosexuals, according to a survey of 307 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Victorians involved in sport.

The research showed almost half of the participants were not ''out'' in their sporting clubs, and 26 per cent of the men surveyed told of sports they would like to play but didn't because they feared abuse.

■slane@theage.com.au

17 comments

  • As straight female I can't belive that there is so much stigma about sexuality. I have never walked in the shoes of a professional AFL footballer (that's because I am female and don't profess the skills that are required - very unco) but please can a professional AFL footballer, (past/present) "come out". I believe that this is all that the community needs. We are living in 2012 for godsake, we love who we love. Live, love and be proud!!!

    Commenter
    LeoLion75
    Date and time
    July 01, 2012, 1:45AM
    • Expecting the AFL to tackle a cultural issue? lmao! Andrew Demetriou is right on top of the homophobia battle - at least he will be once he's attended to the 1000 other things that are apparently more important. Pity ethics, women, member's GF tickets and Misfud aren't among them.

      Commenter
      Woz
      Location
      Albury
      Date and time
      July 01, 2012, 2:09AM
      • "Dr Grange, who now consults to Geelong on cultural matters within the club." Oh my god father, what sort of namby pamby land do we live in. Football clubs having cultural advisors? Common sense is not enough anymore? It's one of the new industries is it?? Do we really need cultural advisors to advise us on such matters? And as for the AFL Players Association wanting to throw their bit into the social re-engineering of Australian society - cut your membership fees, if you can afford a 'manager of culture and leadership' you have far too much money. Good grief.

        Commenter
        Mark
        Location
        CA
        Date and time
        July 01, 2012, 3:34AM
        • Namby pamby? Not me mate. I live at the corner of Bloke and Battler in Bloketoria, Blokestralia. Or not. Try a thought experiment: Think of them less as football "clubs" and more as football "corporations". Acknowledging a responsibility to not participate in or turn a blind eye to discrimination is part of the running of any large organisation.

          It's all about the "social engineering" something something "nanny state" something something, though?

          Akermanis' now infamous piece of editorial effluvia kind of proved that such things were indeed necessary to supplement the critically low degree of "common sense" being displayed.

          Commenter
          nukethewhippet
          Date and time
          July 01, 2012, 1:26PM
      • "Pippa Grange, the AFLPA's manager of culture and leadership until 2010, said the backlash to an article by the controversial retired player Jason Akermanis that she commissioned in her final months in the job"

        Well that would seem to be what happens when academic dilettantes try to play both ends against the middle in the real world.

        If you come out as a consultant who is paid to manage the media message on an issue and then complain that the people that you were paid to manage did not come out on message well I would think you only have yourself to blame.

        Obviously Akermanis and News Ltd saw you coming and decided to publish an article that served their own purposes (selling newspapers and lifting the author's profile). By complaining that you were trumped, on this issue only shows you Dr Pippa Grange to be a rank amateur.

        This issue and the people personally involved deserved better Dr Grange.

        Commenter
        TJP
        Location
        Cambodia
        Date and time
        July 01, 2012, 6:19AM
        • This at least explains why we heard nothing from the AFL after the start of the mentioned placard campaign. At least Ms Grange admits that conscripting Akermanis was a poor move: I can't think of anyone worse, and he clearly destroyed her agenda with his homophobic comments. The AFL has tackled gender and race: it's now time to complete the hat-trick and ACTIVELY campaign against homophobia. Maybe then our gay and bisexual players might feel ready to come out.

          Commenter
          roverlei
          Location
          London
          Date and time
          July 01, 2012, 7:54AM
          • "Not one of the AFL's 830 listed players is openly gay."
            Why do they need to 'Come out', why is their sexual preference any business of ours, why the fascination with homosexuality. It's their private lives, let them live without heterosexual expectations insisting they 'come out'? Do the dishes, weed your garden, go for a drive, do any of the time killing activities to distract yourselves from other peoples private lives!!

            Commenter
            Bingo Bob
            Date and time
            July 01, 2012, 8:18AM
            • Ms Grange commissioned that trash article from Akermanis? Did she read it before it went to print? It was nothing but homophobic, it certainly wasn't doing her inclusivity crusade any favours.

              And besides, the AFL is missing a potential goldmine. They have the hottest players of any sport and as a gay man, the perv factor is the ONLY thing I find interesting about it.

              Commenter
              Wolfie
              Location
              South Yarra
              Date and time
              July 01, 2012, 8:20AM
              • Thanks for putting this back on the agenda after 2 years Sam - we need to keep talking about homosexuality in the AFL. The AFL is one of the most culturally influential organisations in the southern states, sporting or otherwise. Its time for the AFL to start using that influence for the better - starting with much higher levels of vocalisation and publicity. When an AFL player is finally ready and willing to come out, we might see the beginning of a shift in thinking and end to schoolyard bully and prejudice that has plagued Australian youth sports forever, and had led to countless acts of youth suicide and depression.

                Commenter
                Bohdie
                Location
                St Kilda
                Date and time
                July 01, 2012, 8:24AM
                • It amazes me that with only less than 1% of Australia's population being Homosexual the coverage on their issues dominates so much of the media. Australia has far greater problems that need to be covered more extensively than that of the sexual orientation of their people. Try putting up actual humanity type stories such as the plight of the homeless, Australians who are losing their jobs to off shore interests, Australians who have lived here for generations losing their jobs to the influx of so called refugees who work for less than the cost of living here. Education, Taxes, Hospitals...We have far more important things to discuss that are newsworthy, than the rights of a seriously tiny minority group.

                  Commenter
                  HAST67
                  Location
                  Melbourne
                  Date and time
                  July 01, 2012, 9:17AM

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