Witch-Hunt for a Gay Player


Collingwood 1934: were any of those old Magpies a little bit ‘pink’? pic State Library of Victoria

Straight Ally Ben Cohen has suggested there’s ‘a bit of witch-hunt’ to find a gay soccer player. The same thought has been expressed to me many times re gay AFL players. “You’re just creating unbearable pressure and trying to force someone out of the closet,” I am told. I’m not, but I know some people who one day will, unless they’re pre-empted.

Ben’s probably right: of course we’re all longing for someone currently playing at elite level in the most popular male team game (in the world and Australia respectively) to feel happy, supported and comfortable enough to come out and say, “Yeah, I’m gay, so what?” But a witch-hunt? That’s the tabloid media’s game.

The tabloids want it because it would be a great story.The kudos that would accrue from being the first with the story! So the pressure for someone to come out, or be outed is never going to go away. It can only be postponed. It’s all about how the sport manages that pressure, rather than trying to ignore it, and there are few signs that either the FA or the AFL have any idea how to do that.

If they want to know where the real danger lies, the story of how newsreader Peter Hitchener was outed is instructive. To cut it short, he was given a choice between outing himself, nicely, and being outed, nastily. If you want an insight into the way the tabloid press works, in particular the Murdoch press, the full sorry tale is here on Crikey.

The tabloids will only wait so long before someone – probably a freelancer on the make with nothing to lose and tonnes of ‘plausible deniability’ – decides to craft a Hitchener-style ambush to get the scoop and win the feverish contest to be the first to name a gay player. It’s naive to think otherwise.

The urge may abate for a time, while everyone focuses on drugs (last week) or concussion (this week), but one week soon some unfortunate player will find himself on the receiving end of a tabloid probe. And be given Hitchener’s choice, aka, Buckley’s and none.

As I have said before, it is irresponsible and a dereliction of the duty of care to their gay players for the AFL and AFL Players Association not to have a strategy to pre-empt that sort of horror. The very best one is for many players to come out simultaneously, diluting the pressure on any one individual. To make it as much as possible a non-event.

Perhaps that is what the AFL was planning in such secrecy, before tackling homophobia went on the back burner when the somewhat overblown drugs ‘scandal’ came along. Now that has been revealed as somewhat of a beat-up, the media has been sent chasing after concussion stories. Anything, it seems, rather than talk about teh gay.

The issue is the AFL’s grumbling appendix. They can ignore it for a while, but unless they get proactive and book an operation, what are just vague pains and discomfort now will one day soon turn to peritonitis and a dash for the emergency room. And peritonitis can be fatal.

PS Dr George The Healthy Bear thinks Ben Cohen has it all wrong: it’s not a witch-hunt, it’s a desperate need for heroes.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)