Players and coaches of the AFL, the Australian rules football league, have launched a campaign against homophobia (photos below), a hugely positive step in a sport seen by gay men in a recent survey as being hostile and threatening. The campaign is timed to the May 17 International Day Against Homophobia.
Almost 30 players and coaches have signed up to the Players' Association project, to be launched officially next month.
The sportsmen and coaches have been photographed holding handwritten signs calling for acceptance and understanding of homosexuals.
The signs are really cool and you can see a sample below. They are similar to ones in a campaign by an Australian rugby team last year.
The Age laid out the issue:
The game may have trouble convincing people to believe its new-found acceptance of homosexuals, given that not one player in the league is openly gay.
Channel Nine personality and Collingwood president Eddie McGuire recently told gay magazine DNA that he had shared a ''wink and a nod'' with gay AFL players.
And new research by Victoria University shows that gay men believe Australian rules is the most hostile football code, with many saying they feel too threatened to play the game. ... The Victoria University survey of 308 adults found the most common sports that men would like to play but did not, or felt they could not, were Australian Rules Football (45 per cent), rugby (17.5 per cent) and soccer (10 per cent).
All this is true, but it is not unique to the AFL. There are no out pro athletes in any of the four major North American team sports, or major international soccer. The AFL's campaign is light years of anything done by any pro sport I know of. Imagine the impact such a campaign would have by the likes of Peyton Manning or Phil Jackson or Derek Jeter or Sidney Crosby. The AFL players and coaches are on that level in their sport.
Ian Roberts, who came out in the 1990s while a star in Australian rugby, applauded the move.
''Touche to the AFL,'' Roberts said yesterday. He was the first openly gay player in rugby league. ''Obviously they've recognised there's a massive problem and they're finally doing something about it … Something's got to change and this is a positive reaction by positive people.''
Here are some of the signs being held by AFL players and coaches. A larger gallery is here.