The AFL Can Learn A Lesson Or Two From The Women’s League!
Let me begin this piece by saying I don’t claim to know a lot about the AFL or sport in general. In fact I’m kind of surprised to learn that Chris Judd is no longer the captain of Carlton or even playing footy any more!
What I do know is that we now have a women’s football league (AFLW) and that the Brownlow equivalent awards – called the W Awards – were held last night to honour the women. Adelaide player Erin Phillips was undoubtedly the star of the evening. After having already won the premiership and best on ground honours in the grand final Phillips was awarded the inaugural AFLW Best and Fairest on the night. Outstanding!
It’s a feat that is yet to be achieved in the AFL and after winning the award on Tuesday night, Phillips turned to her wife Tracy and gave her a kiss.
“Every bit of this is owed to you,” Phillips said to her wife on the stage. “I love you and thank you so much.”
So much empowerment in one night! Empowerment for women in sport and empowerment for marriage equality. How fantastic that young girls who love playing footy now have female sports heroes to look up to. That they can continue in a sport they love knowing that it’s valued just as much as their male counterparts.
But what I truly loved seeing during the W awards were the women walking the crimson carpet on the night hand in hand with their partners- male or female. They were interviewed about their sport, their families and their children. Of course fashion played a part on the night- but it definitely wasn’t the focus! Best of all, there was no demeaning rotating platform like at the Brownlows. A circular contraption the women stood on so their outfits could be viewed from EVERY unflattering angle. Just the women mind you – not the men.
The fact that Phillips turned up with her wife Tracy was kind of a big deal. And in case you’re wondering- they got married in America because, you know- Australia.
It was a big deal, not because sexuality has anything to do with sport but because it has nothing to do with it. Something the AFLW has managed to show Australia in just one short season. Something the AFL is yet to get it’s archaic head around.
When was the last time we had an openly male gay couple walk the Brownlow red carpet? Has there ever been an AFL footballer admit their gay? Why are they all still in the closet? Why do so many male athletes feel burdened by their sexuality? Yet female athletes could care less who they’re seen with. In fact it’s a non-issue. You are who you are and that should be the end of it.
The AFL needs to take some notes from the AFLW on how a league can empower the youth of our society today. Instead of discouraging male athletes to be open about their sexuality, how about they spend the time and money empowering them with tools to help them navigate through life being their true selves.
I’m sure if Ian Thorpe had the support of his coaches and sponsors he would’ve come out a long time ago. Yet, he kept his sexuality a secret for so long that it eventually saw him fall into a deep depression for many years. How wonderful would it have been for a young Thorpe to have had a sporting idol who was openly gay that he could look up to and take notes from. Or even have a supporting club behind him that could have assured him that his sexuality had nothing to do with his sport and didn’t matter.
And another thing. Why do athletes even have to ‘come out?’ It shouldn’t even be an issue or discussed. Just as Erin Phillips bought her wife along (because why wouldn’t she) so too should every other athlete. No-one ‘comes out’ as straight so why do we care if they’re gay?
The fact that Phillips proudly kissed her wife at the W awards isn’t really news. What makes it news is that it highlights just how backwards Australia is when it comes to it’s views on marriage equality and especially in the arena of sport.
The good news for the AFL is that it has a new chairman, Richard Goyder, who has not once but twice taken a public stand on the issue of marriage equality.
In 2015 Goyder wrote to the Australian Marriage Equality Movement saying:”While Australia continues to exclude same-sex-attracted people on this important and highly valued institution, it sends a message that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation remains acceptable.”
Yet during a corporate same-sex marriage campaign last week which saw signatures from the chiefs of the NRL, Basketball Australia and the national soccer body, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan was not a signatory.
Photos: Ian Currie