Ian Thorpe talks about his private life, including struggles with depression. Photo: Supplied
As Geelong AFL player Harry Taylor was carried on the shoulders of his teammates for his 150th game on Saturday night, he farewelled the crowd with a royal wave.
"I am up here getting ready for the game and I’ve just seen that crap from Harry - he’s a big poofter," Channel Seven commentator Brian Taylor said.
Andrew Purchas, founder of the Sydney Convicts rugby club.
It was a remark displaying the casual homophobia that still permeates some living rooms, offices, bars and stadiums around the country, only this time it was heard on national TV.
Taylor’s fellow commentators chortled like an old-boys' club.
The comments, made on the same night that Ian Thorpe announced that he was gay, held up a mirror to attitudes still faced by many gay athletes.
“It goes to the core of the problem that we have in this country,” said Andrew Purchas, founder of the Sydney Convicts rugby club, “The connotation of Brian Taylor’s comments was that [Harry Taylor] was doing something weak and unmasculine.”
It is this form of causal association that continuously undermines aspiring gay athletes and prevents many from coming out until after their careers are done and dusted, Purchas said.
“Casual homophobia does have negative consequences and an impact,” he said. "There is an obvious reason that many athletes don’t come out until they retire."
“There is clearly a perception that it’s going to damage your career.”
It took another Australian swimmer, Daniel Kowalski, six years after he retired to reveal that he was gay.
Taylor apologised for his comments later in the broadcast on Saturday evening. Hamish McLachlan, host of Channel Seven's AFL Game Day, has now revealed Taylor will undergo counselling and education for his “really bad error of judgment”.
Twitter was quick to condemn Taylor's comments.
Ian Thorpe comes out as gay, hysteria ensues. Sports commentator calls player who displeases him a "poofter". Australia, get in the bin.— Sophie Benjamin (@sophbenj) July 12, 2014
Purchas knows Thorpe’s experience all too well.
Battling with his own sexuality, Purchas would tell some people that he was gay and then, when word spread, he would call those who found out on the grapevine, to deny his sexuality.
Purchas believes Thorpe battled with the same demons.
“I just wonder whether he got caught up in his own lie; he must feel an enormous sense of relief.”
Others also empathised with Thorpe's plight.
Can’t imagine any celeb going through the same stress as Ian Thorpe over coming out today. It’s a no-brainer.— Josh Taylor (@joshgnosis) July 12, 2014
Ian Thorpe came out? Good on him. The fact it's taken him so many years speaks volumes about social and sporting pressures to be straight.— Richard Watts (@richardthewatts) July 12, 2014
Australian sport as a whole needs to create a more welcoming environment, Purchas said.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians don’t want to be treated any differently and they absolutely shouldn’t have to wait until their sporting careers are well and truly finished to show who they are, he said.
Australian Marriage Equality director Rodney Croome called on the goverment to do more to help those struggling with their sexual identity.
"Most Australians expect the government to support fairness and equality, from our greatest Olympian down to those teenagers in suburban and small-town Australia who are still struggling with their sexuality today," he said.
It is not the first time Taylor has made a jibe about homosexuality on air.
“I don’t want to offend his upbringing or his parents ... but he looks gay,” Taylor said of 3AW colleague Seb Costello earlier this season.
“There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just a look, as sophisticated is a look, as daggy is a look. You look gay.”