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Money aside, Thorpe's revelation will pay dividends

Date

Chief Sports Writer, The Sydney Morning Herald

View more articles from Andrew Webster

The truth: swimmer Ian Thorpe being interviewed by Michael Parkinson.

The truth: swimmer Ian Thorpe being interviewed by Michael Parkinson. Photo: Channel Ten

As a gay man, I couldn’t be happier for Ian Thorpe. As a journalist, I have misgivings of his outing as a homosexual with legendary interviewer Michael Parkinson, and its timing.

It does not rest well that Thorpe has decided to talk publicly about his sexuality as part of a reported $550,000 deal with Channel Ten that will see him call swimming at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later this month.

That deal was hatched by his agent James Erskine, who also manages Parkinson. 

Thorpe has had the opportunity to set the record straight on many occasions.

Numerous biographies - authorised and not - have been penned about his life and career. He’s done documentaries, tell-all interviews, comical press conferences sponsored by Virgin declaring his comeback to the pool.

His message from the Parkinson interview has been cheapened by the fact it is part of a lucrative deal - and comes following reports in recent years of Thorpe’s financial troubles.

The chance to set the truth free, with dignity, has been there for Thorpe for years.

Indeed, the first chance Thorpe had to tell the truth came in 2003, when he sat down with my late, great editor at Inside Sport,Greg Hunter.

After finishing his long tenure at the monthly sport's magazine, Greg was thrust into the role of biographer, and then spent a year toiling over Thorpe’s story.

Greg was the ultimate professional and perfectionist. His editing of profile pieces often left this reporter on the verge of tears.

He was torn about the chapter concerning Thorpe’s sexuality. Specifically, he was concerned about a “Cheryl Kernot” situation.

In 2002, the former leader of the Democrats had published her biography, but it had failed to include one particular detail.

Soon after, Laurie Oakes revealed in his weekly column in The Bulletin that Kernot had failed to mention her extramarital affair while leader of the Democrats with former Labor frontbencher Gareth Evans.

But Greg’s concern went deeper than that.

We discussed Thorpe, at length, on numerous occasions, not least because I was coming to terms with my own sexuality. Greg had been a rock in this time, such was his altruistic manner.

Is Ian Thorpe gay? So many people had asked me, as a sports reporter, if I knew the answer.

I didn’t know. I was staring at the ceiling at night wondering why I was and how I was going to tell my father.

I just knew that if he was gay, and was denying it as much as I had, grappling with the truth, then I felt sorry for him.

In the end, Greg looked Thorpe in the eye, believed his version of events, and then passionately argued with anyone who dared to suggest the young swimmer was anything but heterosexual.

After the book was published, Thorpe told Alan Jones on 2GB he hadn't read it. It subsequently tanked.

The myth of Thorpe's heterosexuality was also perpetuated by many of his minders at that time. They fed the line that Thorpe was very much a ladies' man, in every sense, and laughed at suggestions otherwise.

Maybe those minders were protecting the pot of gold otherwise known as Thorpe Inc. 

Thorpe told Parkinson the fear of commercial reprisals stopped him, in part, from coming out sooner.

He is right.

Ian Roberts, the retired rugby league player who came out in 1995, often laughs at the mere notion of the “pink dollar”.

Whatever misgivings you or I might have about Thorpe's paid coming-out, it should not diminish the importance or significance of our greatest Olympian telling "the world" that he is gay.

Many have shrugged their shoulders in recent days and said, "So what? How is Thorpe’s sexuality anyone’s business? Who cares?"

Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham is right: Thorpe’s public declaration will save lives.

It will make it easier for those who are struggling to come to terms with who they are and where they fit in this world. Thorpe remains outrageously popular, despite his indifference towards being a public figure.

Of all the commentary written in the last few days, two lines stand out.

Said comic Tom Ballard in his column for Fairfax Media on Sunday: “For those who've heard this news and shrug and casually asks ‘who cares?’, I'd simply answer ‘15-year-old closeted me’. Scared, little, questioning Tom Ballard would have cared a lot if nine years ago he'd seen swimming champion and national treasure Ian Thorpe on the news, proudly identifying as a successful sportsman and a bloke who liked blokes.”

And this, from Rob Stott at news.com.au, about criticism that Thorpe has “lied” to us for years, including in his 2012 biography: “He was on his own deeply personal journey. A journey that even the most open-minded, tolerant person can’t understand until they’ve been through it themselves.”

That Thorpe is dealing with this now, at the age of 31, illuminates how far Australian society still has to go, and it extends beyond the Prime Minister's backward thinking about same-sex marriage.

Because it's not easy taking a stand - whether you are paid for it or not.

A month after I came out on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald late last year in response to Knights player Ryan Stig's comparison between homosexuality and the work of the devil, I was having a beer at a Surry Hills pub.

A Sydney FC game was on that night, and many of its fans had filled the bar.

“Webster, you f..king faggot,” sneered one of them as I walked outside.

When I spun around and came back in and asked who'd said it, nobody had a word to say.

Who cares? I do.

Twitter: @awebstar1

53 comments

  • Who really cares about anyone's sexual disposition if they are not abusing children or any adult whose consent they do not have? If Channel 10 or anyone is silly enough to pay that $ then it's between him and it/them. But as interesting and impressive a man Ian Thorpe is, his sexual disposition is really of no interest. I fact, it is crashingly boring. If this is the biggest news we can muster, we're in pretty good shape as nation.

    Commenter
    Tell It Like lt Is
    Date and time
    July 14, 2014, 2:41PM
    • I don't understand the correlation between someones sexuality and the abuse of children?

      Commenter
      Person
      Date and time
      July 14, 2014, 2:57PM
    • Apparently lots of people care which is why they discriminate, abuse, bash, vilify, exclude, ridicule, dismiss, ignore...

      When they stop doing that, we won't have to care either.

      I've found I enjoy life so much more when I'm compassionate towards others and take an interest in them... rather than finding an easy reason to ignore them and isolate myself...

      Commenter
      no_subject
      Date and time
      July 14, 2014, 3:02PM
    • Agree. Why is Ian Thorpe's, or anyone else's sexuality for that matter such a big deal? Seems to me, the people who are most upset about Ian Thorpe "finally coming out after so many opportunities" are other gay people. Why? He doesn't owe them or anyone else anything. It's none of their business, just as its none of anyone else's business. The obsession with peoples sexuality is ridiculous.

      Commenter
      Jak
      Date and time
      July 14, 2014, 3:07PM
    • There was much more to his interview than his coming-out. Maybe you should watch, before commenting? It was a fascinating insight into the world of professional swimming.

      Commenter
      MattFromOz
      Location
      Brookvale
      Date and time
      July 14, 2014, 3:10PM
    • Its amazing the lengths people ill go to for money. He was paid 400k to do that interview. Why did he deceive everyone who bought his autobiography (at the young age of 29). So i guess all of his autobiographical book is one big lie? Lets get the facts right. This is his next big publicity stunt because he has blown all his Olympic fortunes. At least Mat Mitcham had the decency to save face and come out early. Ian Thorpe is a coward to use the his gayness as some money making tool. BTW i am gay myself so all the rebuttals about my comments are in vain.

      Commenter
      Greed
      Date and time
      July 14, 2014, 3:13PM
    • What an self-righteous.....person, you are mate! Being gay, doesn't give you the right to judge people and then hide from or refute criticism because "i am gay myself". The money he was paid was for a 90 minute interview of which the gay issue was a small part. It was also tied in with his contract as a commentator for the Commonwealth Games this year. Don't judge someone until you have walked in his shoes! Thorpe explained his reasons and they were valid (or at least understandable) to many people. After denying it from such a young age, and many gay youths do (even in this day and age), he then felt caught up in the lie as he got older and that is why he kept up the denials. You shouldn't condemn him for being human. As a gay person, perhaps you should have more compassion and tolerance for your community! Matthew Mitcham's journey was different to Thorpes, so comparing the two is simply unfair - Mitcham has also come out today and strongly supported Thorpie. That Thorpe has copped so much criticism from a community that should be embracing and supporting him is a sad indictment on that same community! Just sayin....
      BTW - I too am gay - however, I do welcome criticism of my comments.....

      Commenter
      MattFromOz
      Location
      Brookvale
      Date and time
      July 14, 2014, 3:39PM
    • Yes agreed .....
      Making a big deal about Ian's sexuality is what creates unnecessary blabbering.
      Ian Thorpe is:
      A truly exceptional athlete.
      A truly exceptional competitor.
      A truly exceptional person.
      I don't care what his sexuality is, but think it's pathetic, and a shame that such a big deal is being made of it ...... End of story !!!

      Commenter
      Pistol Pete
      Date and time
      July 14, 2014, 4:08PM
    • @Greed (Pippi?) - you being gay means you have just one thing in common with Thorpe, and one thing only. That does NOT qualify you to condemn him for taking his own particular journey to coming out. Unless of course you were (1) a teenage sporting prodigy; (2) in the public spotlight since 14yo; (3) built up by the media and public as the nation's number one sporting hero; (4) questioned constantly by the media about your sexuality since you were 16; (5) scared that your livelihood would be completely ruined by a public coming out during your career; and (6) suffering from depression since a teenager.

      None or only one of these apply to you?? Yeah, thought so.

      Then rebuttals to your comments are completely valid despite your vain and ridiculous attempt to disallow them. Being gay in and of itself doesn't give you the right to judge the path that someone else has taken to coming out, or anyone else for that matter. You haven't lived his life and his experiences. Or is it just that you're jealous that he makes a lot more money than you ever will? You do seem rather preoccupied with that.

      Commenter
      Truthful
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 14, 2014, 4:09PM
  • Andrew, thanks for acknowledging Greg Hunter and his position in all this. Greg was a great man and a wonderfully instinctive editor and writer. He had such high hopes for that book and its subject's comments on it cut him deeply. He'd have had an ironic thought or two about current events, were he still around to see it. RIP Hunter.

    Commenter
    Nick Carroll
    Date and time
    July 14, 2014, 2:47PM

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