Paying the price for progress

2 June 2010

Written by: Matt de Neef

Given the lack of attention that Jason Akermanis has had over the past few weeks, I thought I’d spend some time analysing a little article that the Bulldogs’ forward penned recently.

For those that missed Aker’s charming attempt to play counsellor for gay footballers, the original article is well worth a read; if only for the story about a perfectly good team shower ruined by a gay team mate.

According to Akermanis ‘the world of AFL footy is not ready’ for gay players to ‘come out’, saying that such a revelation could ‘break the fabric of a club’. While I could terminate the discussion here by pointing to the excellent retort written by Gerard Whateley, I would be denying myself a tantalising opportunity to provide an overly sarcastic, holier-than-thou analysis.

Come to think of it, Akermanis is not that far off the mark. Sure, his assessment of the situation is fairly lacking in nuanced analysis but the idea that blokey sporting clubs aren’t ready for gay men to come out is, well, fairly spot on.

Having been a member of a decidedly blokey sporting club for some years I can confirm that sporting culture and empathy for homosexuality aren’t really the greatest of friends. I never played alongside any openly-gay teammates but the blokey banter was enough to leave me with a fair idea of the general attitude towards ‘poofters’. Indeed the use of the word ‘poofters’ should be indication enough.

I can also speak with some authority in agreeing with Akermanis’ suggestion that ‘locker room nudity and homoerotic activities’ are the norm in that environment. I always found it amusing when my teammates would slap each other on the arse during a match, happily shower naked together, and yet still use the word ‘poofter’ as an insult, completely oblivious to the ironic corner they had backed themselves into.

I also agree with Akermanis in saying that the outing of a gay man might tear at the fabric of an AFL club but, as Jack Marx points out, that might well be a good thing. The problem here is not that gay players are a threat to the manliness that football culture is built upon, rather it’s football culture that is a threat to gay players.

While it would be genuinely tough for an AFL footballer to ‘come out’ in the current football climate, few things could be more beneficial to the sport in the long run. What better way to combat institutionalised homophobia than to have proudly gay footballers declare their sexuality while being prepared to discuss it in the public arena? Sure, the footballing world might not know how to handle it initially but it would surely be a step in the right direction.

I mean, even Eddie McGuire thinks it’s a good idea for gay AFL players to come out, telling SX News that he ‘would love it’ were such a revelation to occur. Then again, Eddie also thought it was a good idea to describe figure skaters as not ‘leaving anything in the closet’ while commentating at the recent Winter Olympics.

But it’s not just sporting clubs that seem to feel threatened by homosexuality. If Channel Seven reporter Adam Walters is to be believed, the Australian public are so concerned about homosexuality that a story about David Campbell’s visit to a gay sauna is the biggest news story of the week. To foster a greater sense of connection betwen Jason Akermanis and the former NSW transport minister I would like to invoke the wisdom of Twitter user @heavyphotons;

‘Akermanis tells gay men to live a lie. David Campbell shows us how you’re treated when you do.’

For those that missed Adam Walters’ shameful excuse for investigative journalism, David Campbell handed in his resignation after ‘a 7News investigation’ filmed him leaving the ‘gay sauna’, Ken’s at Kensington. The initial accusation was that Campbell was at fault for using his ministerial car to visit the venue, but when 7News discovered that he was well within his rights to do so, the focus of the story changed.

As Jonathon Holmes explained on Media Watch last week, the issue morphed into a question of Campbell’s sexuality and the fact that he had allegedly been ‘living a double life’. Thankfully, 7News’ decision to run the Campbell story – ruining a man’s career and personal life in the process – attracted the scrutiny of many within the Australian media, not just the watchful folk at Media Watch.

Journalist and former Media Watch presenter David Marr was typically succinct when commenting for ABC TV’s Lateline: ‘Campbell was destroyed by Channel Seven for being gay, full stop.’ David Koch of Sunrise fame impressed many with his criticism of Adam Walters’ apparent double-standard and Crikey’s Andrew Crook took the criticism even further, accusing Walters of having a score to settle.

But perhaps the most telling reaction to the 7News’ ‘investigation’ was the collective damnation of the story by journalism educators around the country. As Crikey reported, more than 50 journalism academics put their names to the statement ‘we deplore what you did to David Campbell and his family’.

It goes without saying that the reaction to Campbell’s ‘double-life’ would have been far less had he been cheating on his wife with another woman. The fact that he seems to enjoy the attention of other men has turned a routine breach of a public figure’s privacy into a ‘gay witch hunt’.

Footy clubs have never been known for the progressive attitudes on matters of sexuality but David Campbell’s trial by media is a sad step backwards in our quest to achieve understanding and respect for everyone, regardless of their sexuality. Channel Seven’s attempt to assess  ‘public interest’ stories hopefully says more about the misguided direction of the network rather than society’s thirst for gay blood.

But lest we finish this evening in a cloud of doom and gloom, let’s be grateful that we Australians don’t have the likes of Fred Phelps throwing their weight around. Never mind gay ministers and gay footballers, if Mr Phelps is to believed, we Aussies have far bigger problems on our hands. The good pastor provided this glorious insight during the Black Saturday bushfires last year:

‘God hates Australia, land of the sodomite damned. The fag-infested land of Australia – the fire of God’s wrath is sending hundreds of those filthy Australian beasts straight to hell. We at the Westboro Baptist Church are rejoicing, and we are praying for the dear lord to burn many more Australians alive.’

All of a sudden, Jason Akermanis doesn’t seem like such a bad bloke…

Matt de Neef is co-editor of upstart. This piece first appeared on his blog, A Cursory Glance…