Speaking at an event on Monday, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan shed light on why he believes there are no openly gay AFL players to date.
“The first thing I’d say is I am very comfortable there are gay male players and I am very comfortable (in saying) they are known to their teammates,” Gillon says.
“What they are choosing is to not be the first person,” he continues.
“The female cohort (AFLW) came out at once, they had safety in numbers, there was no first.
“So the pressure and the weight on that person being the first AFL player who comes out and plays as an out gay man, I think that weight, frankly I can understand why they would choose not to have to carry that burden around for ever.
“And I don’t they need to and I think people should live their lives how they want to live it.”
Why do firsts matter?
Of course, the prospect of being the torch-bearer for queerness in a sport that heterosexual men heavily dominate can seem daunting.
But, if anything, shouldn’t this be an argument for more openly queer men in AFL and not a reason for none?
The end goal of representation has always been as a vehicle to normalise being openly queer.
The first openly gay AFL player shouldn’t have to shoulder the responsibility of potentiall facing adversity.
Openly gay AFL players should have the freedom to perform without worrying about how their sexuality will affect their profession.
This has become such a prevalant aspect of almost every other sport, so it’s time for male-dominated sports in Australia to catch up.
The “burden” of being out
If Adelaide United’s Josh Cavallo has taught us anything, it’s that being the first openly gay person in your sport is not a burden – but a privilege.
Upon opening up about his sexuality, Josh revealed that he hoped in doing so, he could “show others who identify as LGBTQ+ that they are welcome in the football community.”
He also later revealed that his friendship with gay, ex-football player Thomas Beattie from the UK inspired him to come out.
This pattern of queer players inspiring eachother to come out is exactly why being the first out player is less and less important.
Players shouldn’t be encouraged to keep their sexualities disclosed to their private lives.
It has to be an open, trusting and supportive platform for conversations – this is paramount.
Because, despite the concerns raised by Gillon, a future where these conversations are possible is only possibly by removing that invisible “burden of responsiblity” for whoever may be the first out player in AFL.