What is Akermanis' game??
Article in The Age 280810
Gay focus 'puts lives at risk'
By Samantha Lane
August 28, 2010
THE appetite for ''outing'' gay AFL players is putting lives of young Australians wrestling with their sexuality at risk, says an expert in the field who has advised the AFL Players' Association on the topic.
Rob Mitchell, instrumental in the AFLPA's anti-homophobia campaign earlier this year and a member of the state government's Sport Governance and Inclusion project, has called on the AFL to take a stronger lead but believes the league still ''buries its head in the sand'' on the issue.
Mitchell's comments follow reports in The Age this week that Jason Akermanis speculated about individual AFL players who might be gay at a corporate function in Mildura earlier this month.
Akermanis has since defended himself by saying he was merely responding to rumours about certain players that were raised during a question-answer segment. But Mitchell, who has met and spoken with senior AFL figures about how the league approaches homosexuality and homophobia, says that is no excuse. He is particularly incensed given he was involved in providing Akermanis with statistics about youth suicide and depression before the sacked Western Bulldog wrote his now-infamous ''Stay in the Closet'' newspaper column earlier this year. ''It's grossly irresponsible. Because the research tells us, and Jason Akermanis knows this research, that the people who are at highest risk of committing suicide are the people who are thinking of doing so to avoid disclosure of their sexual orientation - whether it's gay, bisexual or whatever. So for Jason Akermanis to be engaging in this sort of behaviour, I think he would seem to be intent on keeping funeral directors busy,'' Mitchell said.
While praising the ground-breaking work of the AFLPA, which signed up roughly 30 AFL players and coaches to front an ''inclusion and diversity'' campaign to mark the International Day Against Homophobia in May, Mitchell believes the AFL's approach to homosexuality generally leaves much to be desired.
A Victorian University research report published this year, ''Come Out to Play'', found Australian rules to be the most hostile and unwelcoming football code for homosexuals.
45 per cent of the 308 surveyed gay men said they would like to play AFL but did not, or felt they could not, because of the environment they perceived to be threatening. By comparison, 10 per cent of those surveyed regarded soccer as Australia's most hostile sporting environment for gay men.
"It escapes me, it eludes me completely, why the AFL is not going at this with hammer and tongs,'' Mitchell said. ''I go back to the Mal Brown and Dipper [race-related] comments. When they came out, the AFL was like a very finely tuned machine swung into action. There was no delay and they were completely on message. They said 'this is unacceptable'. We're not getting that with Jason Akermanis. In many ways it's like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
''At this point there are two things they've [the AFL] got to do. Firstly, they've got make it abundantly clear that they think what Jason Akermanis is doing is incredibly harmful … the second thing they've got to do is genuinely start doing some outward-facing work on kicking homophobia out of football. The problem is not with the players. The problem is with the administration. It's not up to speed.''
An AFL spokesman told The Age this week: "The AFL has made it very clear that everyone is treated equally and no-one should ever be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual preference or identity, and that stance has been enshrined in our rules outlawing vilification. That is a view that is shared by the wider football community."
AFL Players' Association president Brett Burton said it ''flabbergasts me'' that Akermanis would speculate publicly about who, in the AFL playing ranks, may or may not be gay.
''We've worked so hard as a playing group to send a message to the general community that we support differences in the community, whether it be differences in culture or whether it be sexual choice,'' he said.
''We're not trying to 'out' people. It's all about trying to make the environment and the community a place where people can feel comfortable if they choose to come out.
''It's about people feeling more comfortable because we know about the suicide rates in homosexual people and we know the struggles they face with having their sexual choice acknowledged, be it by family or by friends.''