I was reminded of her questioning on reading reports in today's SMH about statements by "outspoken" footballer Jason Akermanis that gay footballers should stay in the closet. (ROFLMVAO at Mr Akermanis' photo ... so very Village People).
He is reported as stating that -
I'm not sure that's very safe and healthy for the competition. What you do in your private life is your business. ...Presumably we've become so blase about leading footballers taking banned substances, dealing in banned substances, getting 'wasted' yet again and writing off their sports cars, raping adult female fans or engaging in group sex - oh, homosociality! - with minors that we don't need to fret about publicity or torn fabric.
If a player wants to out himself, then I say good luck ...
But I believe the world of AFL footy is not ready for it. To come out is unnecessary for a lot of reasons.
Imagine the publicity associated with a current player admitting he's gay.
It would be international news and could break the fabric of a club.
Mr Akermanis is reported as explaining that 'footballers are at their peak of masculinity, which means homophobia is "almost at its peak".' Uh huh.
"Some footballers think there's something wrong with people, they have some kind of disease."I must go to a football game ... the last time I indulged the players seemed to be wearing clothes, so suggestions of continuous nudity are misplaced.
"But some of my, the homoeroticism around football clubs ... what workplace would you be able to see 20 men nude all the time if you wanted to?
"When you're slapping blokes on the bum and just having a bit of fun, what would that do to a man in there when you actually work out, 'Oh wait a second, wait a second. I don't know if I can handle that guy"'.
Akermanis is reported as commenting that 'it would be unsafe for players to be openly gay and it could make other players uncomfortable since they think homosexuals suffer from some kind of disease'. Presumably those players can be educated about the principles of contagion ... no, you won't become gay merely by being within 50 metres of 'one of them', by borrowing a towel or a pair of boots, or by slapping the wrong bloke on the bum. No need to sterilise football between passes. No need to spray toxic substances on the grass in case the gay virus has escaped.
Akermanis (or his ghostwriter) might have benefited from reading Come Out To Play: The Sports experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in Victoria [PDF] which concludes that -
Most Come Out To Play participants were sports devotees who valued these health, social and achievement benefits of sport. A significant proportion also persisted with their sport involvement even in the face of sexuality and gender based discrimination and abuse.
Other studies have demonstrated that school sport is a key site of homophobic bullying (Brackenridge, 2006; Hillier, 2005) and sexism (Wellard, 2002, Penney, 2002). Survey participants who had positive experiences of sport and physical education at school indicated that they were confident and successful in their sporting skill and 'perceived ability at sport was a strong indicator of whether or not this area of study was remembered as positive or negative'. However, a significant proportion (over 45.0%) experienced homophobia as a common part of their sporting education, and this was more pronounced for men than women in the study. It was also troubling that nobody in the study gave examples of teachers supporting SSAY in their sports endeavours, or intervening when homophobic language and bullying did take place.
Brackenridge et al. (2006) conclusion that the overall effects of homophobic bullying on sports for boys who are non-athletic and or perceived as gay, as well as girls in general – that it drives down sports participation, or Hillier et al. (1998, 2005) finding that sport was one of the main environments that same-sex attracted young people within Australia felt least safe, could not be assessed by this study because of the sporty nature of the LGBT sample as well as the age range surveyed (over 18 years). Specific research needs to be conducted on sports participation including the benefits, barriers, facilitators and issues for SSAY in Australia. Furthermore, the overall participation rates of LGBT Australians in sport and physical activity have not been researched. Participation surveys such as the Sweeny reports and Australian Bureau of Statistics data do not even ask respondents to identify their sexual orientation. These research gaps need to be addressed. However, there is sufficient research evidence demonstrating that the school and sports environment present significant challenges for SSAY and that targeted programs that address homophobia in sport and promote sports participation and the inclusion of SSAY are timely. This would need to occur in the educational environment, ensuring that physical education and health teachers in particular, are professionally prepared and sensitive to this issue.
The shaping fields within society and sport for these discriminatory experience centre on traditional discourses of gender and sexuality. The qualitative responses from the Come Out To Play research indicated that ‘strong sanctions’ were imposed on those who violated these ‘gender and sexuality norms’ during their sports experiences. Homophobic and / or sexist verbal insults and threats, physical assaults and general exclusionary practices had a negative impact on the LGBT sports people who were the targets of these sanctions. Participant's responses to the closed questions of the survey also portrayed a challenging mainstream sporting environment for many LGBT people.
Forty-one percent of survey participants had experienced verbal homophobia at some time during their sport involvement and for the majority this experience was common place. A similar percentage had experienced sexism during their involvement in sport and over 80.0% of this cohort reported that such sexism was a common occurrence. Whilst 33.0% of survey participants identified their sports club as very welcoming of non-heterosexual people, a further 36.0% reported their mainstream club to be neither welcoming nor unwelcoming and 13.6% reported their club to be unwelcoming to very unwelcoming to them as non-heterosexuals. Only 12.1% of survey participants indicated that their mainstream sports club had policies that promoted the safety and inclusion of LGBT people, whilst a further 44.2% reported that no such policies existed.
It is not surprising in this challenging context that nearly half of the survey participants were not 'out' in their mainstream sport, whilst a further 33.0% were 'out' to some. The main reasons given for not being 'out' were unsure of sexuality, safety and wellbeing concerns such as the fear of being judged, harassed, discriminated against, abused and even physically assaulted. Feelings of isolation also resulted when few if any LGBT club members were 'out'. Gay men were the least likely to be 'out' in a team sport, compared to an individual sport and were also significantly less likely to play team sports than women. Although the women in this survey reported experiencing greater levels of homophobia and sexism, the potential of the abuse for not being heterosexual was more serious for gay men. The dynamics of gender, sexuality and sport played out in the stories and responses of these survey participants was rich and instructive. Whilst there were some positive sport stories from this survey that provide good practice examples of open and inclusive sports environments for LGBT people, many exemplified conditionally tolerant environments at best and hostile ones at worst.