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

Matt Cleary Columnist

By Matt Cleary, Matt Cleary is a Roar Expert


54 Have your say

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (54)

    • Roar Rookie

      March 17th 2017 @ 9:20am
      c said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:20am | ! Report

      many people wouldn’t have any problem with it unfortunately many would

    • Roar Guru

      March 17th 2017 @ 9:24am
      The Barry said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:24am | ! Report

      I suspect it’s got more to do with the public scrutiny than attitudes within footy (or any sport).

      Athletes are in the public eye anyway with a lot of what they do scrutinised and discussed. I can understand why someone would not want to add another incredibly personal dimension to that.

      Social media has given faceless people a soapbox to stand on and air their prejudices. In the past someone would need to get within shouting distance to personally abuse a sports person. Now they can do it from their armchair on the other side of the world.

      While I genuinely believe there are fewer gronks in the world that would behave that way, unfortunately the ones that do have a greater voice. So while the community overall might be more accepting I suspect in some ways it might be harder than ever for a famous athlete to come out.

      • March 17th 2017 @ 9:37am
        andrew said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:37am | ! Report

        While I agree with the concerns (maybe not the right word) over key board warriors and dropkicks in the front rows of grounds might deter some from being open publicly, i suspect many see the way their personal lives are already muck raked through and the sensationalist journalism that takes place and probably think it is a lot less hassle to not declare their sexuality to the world, just their family/friends.
        I also imagine in this paparazzi world and world where everyone has a camera phone, they don’t want to be photographed every time they are out in public with a mate and the questions be raised is the mate just a friend or more every time they bro-shake..

        I would imagine (no stats to know) that the average age of people when they come out to family and friends is coming down, but those people don’t have to make media statements about it. Quite different to come out to family and friends than to cameras and microphones I would suspect.

        I am sure there are more gay athletes in rugby league, I assume the reasons for keeping it to themselves vary.

        It is all a bit of a shame.

        • Roar Guru

          March 17th 2017 @ 10:04am
          The Barry said | March 17th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

          I wasn’t clear but in my second paragraph I was referring to the scrutiny of the mainstream media before moving on to social media.

          I’m sure it’s a very difficult time but exponentially worse on the front page of papers, websites, magazines.

    • Roar Guru

      March 17th 2017 @ 9:26am
      Magnus M. Østergaard said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:26am | ! Report

      Its worth noting that Ceccin was out within the league community for years as well. So their might be a few gay players that we just don’t know about.

      Most figure its probably just not worth the sledging from some fans to be openly gay. Or there may not be any.

    • March 17th 2017 @ 9:47am
      Brainstrust said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:47am | ! Report

      Its not just about coming out to the public. An Italian lower division footballer who was gay spilt the beans on gay Italian footballers including members of the Italian national football team were paying him for sex. Some of the gay Italian footballers also had wives and families and keep their whole gay existence secret from their wives and families.

      • March 17th 2017 @ 12:15pm
        Wolly said | March 17th 2017 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

        That doesn’t surprise me one bit. It’s disappointing as someone of that background that some Italians make such a big deal about something like someone’s sexual orientation.

        My old barista came from Naples and he ended up being friendless when he came out.

    • March 17th 2017 @ 9:48am
      Oingo Boingo said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:48am | ! Report

      Wow , according to Matt Cleary , between 10 and 20% of the population is gay , don’t let facts get in the way of a good indoctrination article.
      Perhaps you’ve come to that conclusion via the ” Safe Schools ” program.

      • Columnist

        March 17th 2017 @ 10:31am
        Matt Cleary said | March 17th 2017 @ 10:31am | ! Report

        Ha. No mate. Where you get your numbers from?

        • March 17th 2017 @ 1:33pm
          Oingo Boingo said | March 17th 2017 @ 1:33pm | ! Report

          1 in 5 is 20% , 1 in 10 is 10 % .
          I’m sure if Donald Trump was to loosely quote figures in the same manner ,you and ya lefty mates would be down on him like a ton o bricks .

          • March 17th 2017 @ 2:32pm
            spruce moose said | March 17th 2017 @ 2:32pm | ! Report

            Thanks Alex Jones. Go back to your shanty now please.

          • Columnist

            March 17th 2017 @ 2:32pm
            Matt Cleary said | March 17th 2017 @ 2:32pm | ! Report

            Well – yes. He would be speaking, so yes. He would be lying.

            The quote included “or whatever”, and was, granted, not the most mathematically stringent piece of calculus there’s ever been. I dunno how many people are and/or identify as LBTQIRSVPLOL, etc etc, but one in five, or one in ten, or whatever, is about right.

            • March 17th 2017 @ 3:42pm
              Oingo Boingo said | March 17th 2017 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

              So between 1 and four gay men in each 1st grade squad , I’m surprised they get any training done at all.

              • March 17th 2017 @ 5:34pm
                Dom said | March 17th 2017 @ 5:34pm | ! Report

                You’ve got problems, Mr Boingo. You realise gay people are, like, regular people, right? With jobs and everything?

                Or are you saying because you’re a straight guy, you’re unable to work around women?

              • March 17th 2017 @ 7:57pm
                Oingo Boingo said | March 17th 2017 @ 7:57pm | ! Report

                Yeah I do .
                With people who fabricate rather than base their argument on facts .
                And now , because I’ve questioned the credibility of the content I’m an open target for all and sundry who hold a contrary opinion.
                In relation to the comment that has drawn you ire , I hope you can appreciate satire.

            • March 17th 2017 @ 4:00pm
              GoGWS said | March 17th 2017 @ 4:00pm | ! Report

              1 in 10 is a commonly repeated number when it comes to same sex attraction claims but that’s very likely an exaggeration for the sake of people wanting to be seen to be more inclusive. I had a gay lecturer at uni and he said told us that the real number of gay men was about 2 or 3 percent, and that he wished it was 10 percent like people like to claim (and he quoted some survey not just his opinion). One in thirty seems a lot closer to the true number based on what I’ve seen at work at school/uni.

              I don’t blame any gay players from staying in the closet…it’d be a circus if they came out

            • March 18th 2017 @ 8:54am
              Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

              According to the ABS 2011 Census same sex couples accounted for only 1% of all couples. Roy Morgan Research showed a bit under 4% of people surveyed in Australia in 2014 considered themselves homosexual. The proportion of teenagers that considered themselves homosexual was slightly higher at 5% and it was lower for older age groups (e.g 2% of those aged 50 years plus). I was a bit surprised – I thought it would have been higher and like Matt thought it was at least 1 in 10. I’m not surprised that league players that are gay don’t come out – why put a big target on your back and get unnecessary aggro from opposition players and supporters.Did Roberts come out after he had retired? Bit disappointing that in this day and age they still have to keep it hidden.

      • March 17th 2017 @ 11:32am
        Griggso said | March 17th 2017 @ 11:32am | ! Report

        What’s an ‘indoctirination article’ ?

        • Columnist

          March 17th 2017 @ 11:46am
          Matt Cleary said | March 17th 2017 @ 11:46am | ! Report

          Be like those Nazi mind-bending techniques used by The Gays to make people believe in marriage equality. It happens.

          • March 17th 2017 @ 12:47pm
            Griggso said | March 17th 2017 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

            I typed an exceptionally witty comment Matt, but I used the ‘N’ word (no not that one, the other one that sounds like nartsie). Lost in moderation it would seem. Rest assured though, it was awesome.

            • Columnist

              March 17th 2017 @ 2:36pm
              Matt Cleary said | March 17th 2017 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

              No – It got a geurnsey. Or Guernsey.

              And yes – if old mate Goebells had started a sports opinion website we could be wall-to-wall married gay people. And then where would we be?

              Nowhere different to where we are, except the kooks would be freaking out more about the death of democracy, procreation of the species, etc.

              Which would be good. I think.

      • March 17th 2017 @ 11:38am
        no one in particular said | March 17th 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

        I just knew this article would bring oingo boingo out of his cave

        • March 17th 2017 @ 1:27pm
          Herman Hoth said | March 17th 2017 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

          3 % of the population from what I hear.

        • March 17th 2017 @ 1:50pm
          Christo the Daddyo said | March 17th 2017 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

          The existence of people like that is the answer to the question posed in the article’s heading…

          • March 17th 2017 @ 5:36pm
            Oingo Boingo said | March 17th 2017 @ 5:36pm | ! Report

            So people who prefer facts in contrast to exaggerated statements designed to support an argument,are the reason behind the lack of gay footballers .
            Now , there’s an exaggerated statement designed to support an argument or is that just lefty logic ?

        • March 17th 2017 @ 5:39pm
          Oingo Boingo said | March 17th 2017 @ 5:39pm | ! Report

          Haw haw haw oh dear oh me , somebody get a needle and thread and stitch me up .
          Ohhhh the reference to a caveman , that’s gold .

    • March 17th 2017 @ 9:55am
      Silvertail47 said | March 17th 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      There’s so much footy , there’s rd3 ahead 16 teams and we want to talk about this ? Ian’s smashed this ceiling it’s a nothing topic ,the world has moved forward and this is no longer an issue or a discussion point amongst RL fans ,, not in my world anyway

      • Columnist

        March 17th 2017 @ 11:37am
        Matt Cleary said | March 17th 2017 @ 11:37am | ! Report

        Maybe it should be though mate? If the world has moved forward, why is Roberts the only person who’s come out in Australian footy and cricket since he did? (About ’95, I think.) Gotta keep the conversation going, I think, so that one day people will feel safe being themselves in footy. Dunno if they do. I mean there’s people that think that there aren’t gay people in sport. Which is not true. Mate it’s different for everyone, and there’s no Rule that says you have to declare anything. You don’t have to. But for those who’d like to, but who feel afraid, for whatever reason … those people should feel safe, shouldn’t they?

        • March 17th 2017 @ 1:41pm
          Silvertail47 said | March 17th 2017 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

          Your right , I believe the majority feels the same , maybe people that are gay are simply keeping to themselves, a lot of people today take on social issues and bring up situations that simply do not exist, maybe it’s just the norm now and there isn’t a need to openly show people what they believe , Ian Roberts opened up during a period of time when this situation deserved to be discussed, my view and those I respect don’t see this as an issue today

          • Columnist

            March 17th 2017 @ 3:32pm
            Matt Cleary said | March 17th 2017 @ 3:32pm | ! Report

            Fair enough. But there’s a large body of folks for whom it is an issue.

            Ian Roberts was incredibly ballsy, though he doesn’t sort of think he was. For him being “out” it was just who he was. No choice. He was a gay dude and that was just it. But then he was 6 foot 5 and there weren’t many if any having a crack at him to his face. But today there’s young blokes, teenagers, killing themselves because they fear society and the micro-society they’re in – sport – isn’t cool with who they are. That’s not right. And that’s why it is an Issue, and one that needs to be continually talked about until it isn’t one.