It’s been over six year since Jason Akermanis suggested “AFL footy is not ready” for an openly gay player.
Akermanis’ view was criticised by many players and administrators at the time, but the issue of homophobia in the sport was hard for league honchos to dismiss.
Much has changed since then, thanks in part to LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) advocate Jason Ball.
Ball in 2012 became the first male Australian rules football player at any level to publicly come out as gay.
No AFL player has done the same.
“There would be a lot of pressure on someone playing at the elite level. It’s different for me … football is not my career,” Ball reflected at the launch of the inaugural AFL Pride Game, which will feature St Kilda and Sydney in round 21.
“My message to them is don’t be afraid to be who you are and you’ll be surprised by how accepting the community and the AFL community will be, if you give them the chance.”
AFL football manager Mark Evans is confident the league has reached a point where a homosexual player would feel comfortable coming out.
“It ultimately has to be their decision. When a player or players are ready to do that, then so are we,” Evans said.
“We’re really confident that will be well handled at club level and it’ll help us take another conversation to the world stage.
“We’ve done some work with our player groups at AFL clubs and we know there’ll be some difficulties for a player who does come out.”
Ball and the Yarra Glen football club initiated the 2014 Community Pride Cup, paving the way for the AFL’s Pride Game.
The Saints will don guernseys with rainbow-patterned numbers in round 21, while the Swans will wear rainbow socks in a show of support for the LGBTI community.
Evans hoped it would become an annual fixture.
“(St Kilda chief executive) Matt Finnis certainly has plans for that,” he said.