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.