By Jordan Ruimy
It might not be big news here but in Australia, Jason Ball’s name has been everywhere these days.
Ball, a 40 year old AFL footballer, retired and shortly after came out of the closet publicly. He’s using all the attention he’s getting to launch change.org and is encouraging the AFL to show an anti-homophobia ad during the AFL’s equivalent of the Super Bowl at the end of September.
As I’ve written in past articles, homophobia is a very present problem in any sport, professional or not. Ball’s concern of coming out in the first place was extreme. He has said that his teammates warmed up to his announcement and have since supported him through and through.
At the same time, given the fact that he has admitted to hearing homophobic language in the locker room before teammates were aware of his sexuality, one is disturbed by his original hesitations.
”It was the one place I never thought I’d be able to come out. Ever. It just felt like a really hostile environment. I worried I’d be bullied, maybe I’d get kicked out of the side, maybe the opposition would treat me differently or I’d get abuse [from supporters]over the fence,” he told The Sunday Age. ”I didn’t know any footballers who were gay, so I could only assume the worst, and it scared me.”
Once he made the announcement that he was gay, the homophobic language stopped. ”It was like they could see those words have an effect on people because it was hurting me, one of their mates.”
The blatant homophobia stopped, but the fact is such behavior still has ramifications, preventing many closeted athletes from ever coming out. In fact, most male athletes that do come out usually do so after announcing their retirement – as if only then, they know they won’t have to deal with any negativity in the locker rooms.
This trend will most likely continue in the years to come unless more brave athletes from various organized sports decide to speak up and come out full swing with a career that is just starting. Don’t hold your breath.