If everyone’s cool with it, why is Ian Roberts the only man out?

Matt Cleary Columnist

By , Matt Cleary is a Roar Expert


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    I don’t know if there are any gay dudes in the NRL, AFL, A-League, Super Rugby and cricket, but going on statistics, you’d assume there are.

    It stands to reason that if gay people are one-in-five or one-in-ten of the population, or whatever the number is, then there’d have to be a couple, as there are in any walk of life.

    And yet, there’s only been Ian Roberts in 30 years of footy and cricket? And Matthew Mitcham is the only male Olympian? (of course, we all know that Thorpie came out after he finished his stellar career)

    There’s something up with that. 

    Over the years, I’ve asked a bunch of sports folk what the reaction would be in their club if a player declared they were gay. And to a man, they’re sure everyone would be cool with it.

    Said one: “You’d like to think that if a bloke came out, that people wouldn’t have any problem with it. I certainly wouldn’t. And I don’t know any players who would. Yet obviously blokes still aren’t comfortable, for whatever reason, coming out to teammates, the public.” 

    Maybe it’s a slow burner. Maybe it’ll take one or two to come out for others to be comfortable about it.

    Or, you know, maybe blokes don’t necessarily want to. Not everyone has to openly declare their sexuality. It’s not like a law.  

    But if there are gay sports people, and for whatever reason they haven’t felt comfortable about opening up and being themselves – and they would like to – then that’s something sport should address.

    Sport is having the conversation, is being nudged in the right direction. The Pride In Sport Index keeps sports honest, ranking them on acceptance of gay folk. Surely we’re on an upwards trend towards a day when a player’s sexuality isn’t a ‘thing’?

    Matthew Mitcham Beijing Olympics Gold medal

    From conversations with dozens of NRL playes, it’s clear the vast majority would be sweet if someone did come out. And the blokes that aren’t would be called for the mugs that they are. 

    Imagine a player said in a team meeting, “I’ve got something to tell you, boys. I’m a gay man and this is me.”

    You’d assume it would be sweet. In fact, I’m sure it would be sweet. Blokes would respect him for it. They’d know it would take courage. Men are capable of empathy.

    But you’d be naive to think that it wouldn’t change things, even if people are completely accepting and sweet with it.

    There would be a period of adjustment. It might even be awkward for some, until they got over themselves.

    But nothing would change in the bloke that you know. He’s the same, and you’d still like him if you liked him. You’d still respect him as a footy player. And if he copped any verbal slurs on the field – and again you’d be really surprised if he did, but if he did – it would be one-in-all-in.

    Blokes would stick up for their mate. Because bottom line, you go into war with the bloke, he’s one of yours.

    The player might be ‘Gay Jonno’ in the team for a while. There’d be a few gee-ups. That’s footy. That’s blokes. And he might be ‘the gay player’ outside the footy club and in the public. And he might always be, I suppose, unless there’s three or four who come out across the league and it’s ‘normalised’.  

    But as for people worrying about it, being shocked or whatever, or being bigoted against a player for his sexuality, surely it would only be a tiny minority. Like in society. 

    Look at Matty Ceccin, the referee, who came out a few years ago. Players respected him for that. And they still respect him as a referee (even if he does get things wrong).

    Michael Jennings is sin binned by referee Matt Cecchin

    But Ceccin coming out, being gay, it was only sort of news for a week. And now he’s still a ref.Nothing’s changed. And nothing’s happened on the field that’s differentiated him because of his sexuality. 

    You’d like to think that would be the same for a player. I’m sure it would be.

    Rugby league, for one, is making the right noises. And it’s coming from the top down. A float’s gone up Mardi Gras a couple of times. That stuff’s important. And you’d hope it sends a good message. 

    But at the moment, obviously, it’s not enough to encourage gay footy players from coming out if they want to.

    Matt Cleary
    Matt Cleary

    Matt Cleary is a sports writer from Sydney. He enjoys golf, footy and Four Pines Pale Ale, and spends as much time as conscience allows at Long Reef GC. Tweet him @journomatcleary, or read him at his website.