Kangaroos head coach Alastair Clarkson has been fined and handed a suspended two-game ban for using a homophobic slur | Daniel Pockett / Stringer

As head coach of one of the 18 clubs in the AFL — Australia’s most-watched sports league, known as Aussie Rules Football — North Melbourne’s Alastair Clarkson is a “leader in society” who will learn from his fine for using a homophobic slur.

That’s the view of Dani Laidley, who led the same club from 2003 to 2009 and was a player in the Kangaroos’ glory days of the late 1990s, helping them to a premiership crown in 1996. 

She was publicly outed as trans in 2020 and has since gone on to become a rare but influential LGBTQ voice in the sport.

Clarkson has now expressed a willingness to learn about inclusive leadership, having already achieved great success in his career (he guided one of his previous clubs Hawthorn to four titles).

The audible homophobic slur — “c********r” — that he directed at opposition St Kilda players in a pre-season game last week has resulted in a $13,000 fine — the biggest rap of his time in coaching to date, according to the Herald Sun.

Clarkson’s volatile temper has landed him in hot water several times in the past and some thought his latest outburst, being discriminatory in nature, would be met with a more severe response.

Yet while a two-game ban was handed down by AFL chiefs, it is suspended, meaning that if the Kangaroos coach can avoid any “unbecoming conduct” between now and the end of the 2025 season, he’ll keep his place on the touchline.

The West Australian invited Laidley to write an op-ed on the outcome of the affair, which began when a furious Clarkson confronted St Kilda’s Dougal Howard and Jimmy Webster, the latter’s high tackle having caused a concussion to Kangaroos captain Jy Simpkin.

“Leaders make mistakes — I myself have made plenty over the journey,” wrote Laidley.

“My philosophy is to support your player — which Clarkson has done — but change the language and change the behavior.

“How does he do that going forward? Through awareness, training and education.”

Reiterating an apology he gave after the match, Clarkson further underlined his contrition in a statement made after the ban was announced.

“This has been a significant reflective moment for me,” he said.

“My language was not used with any intent to vilify or marginalize, however through this incident I have begun to understand the impact of the use of casual language.

“I am fully committed to educating myself in this regard.”

The training will be delivered by not-for-profit organization Pride in Sport, the AFL’s approved LGBTQ partner. 

There has never been an out gay or bi male player in professional Aussie Rules, even though there are around 800 active pro players at the elite level every season.

As with all men’s team sports, the reasons are complex but hypermasculinity and the use of anti-gay language and behavior in locker rooms and on the field are major factors.

Laidley addresses this in her column, as she ponders how such a slur would have made her feel.

“Going through my experience… [if] I heard words to that effect, I can assure you, mental health is terribly affected. In fact, the shame and fear are horrendous.

“At any level, be it AFL or community football, we may lose great talent because everyone is not embraced for who they are.”

She hopes her successor learns from the incident and that the punishment serves as “a line in the sand”.

However, others were less forgiving. The Age columnist Caroline Wilson rebuked AFL CEO Andrew Dillon for going “soft” on Clarkson, considering this is far from his first disciplinary offence.

She felt a stronger sanction was warranted in this instance, as did Cyd Zeigler in his article for Outsports last week. 

Tellingly, in her op-ed, Laidley also points out the consequences of hearing homophobic language for gay and bi men who grew up in the sport.

“I have spoken to many people in my travels and how they have quit our game because there is no one else like them or they are not welcomed,” she adds.

This was as much a lesson in leadership for the top brass at the AFL as it was for Clarkson.

The fine may be substantial for Aussie Rules, but the optics of this high-profile head coach being able to continue to bark orders from the bench without any interruption sends a message too.

Don't forget to share: