NFL puts AFL to Shame

Freedom to Marry http://www.flickr.com/photos/marriageequality/

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe – no, I haven’t the faintest idea what a punter does, or anything else about American Football either, but it doesn’t matter – is amazing. He reminds us of something we forget. Professional sportsmen are not all a bunch of redneck Neanderthals with primitive attitudes to, say, women and gays. That’s as much a cliche as the limp-wristed faggy hairdresser with a Kylie fixation. Some of them – I dare say quite a lot of them – are intelligent articulate young men, thoughtful and compassionate. The footballers, that is.

I first heard of him when he wrote a blistering letter to some piece of primeval slime currently employed as a legislator somewhere, who tried to tell another football player he should shut up and stop publicly supporting gay marriage. You know the type – a more evolved version of Cory Bernardi.

Anyway, Kluwe’s response went viral: you can read it here. Here’s a taste:

“I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster.
“They won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children.

“You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?”

Are you in love yet? Wait, there’s more. Kluwe recently wrote about his experience of attending a Minneapolis fundraiser for the campaign against amending the state constitution to ban gay marriage.

Read the whole thing, please. He’s a model of good humour, compassion, and just an all round amazing human being. But the bit I want to quote is this:

“One conversation I had that will stick with me for the rest of my life involved a local high school teacher/coach. He walked up, introduced himself, shook my hand and said these exact words:

‘I want to thank you for speaking up. What you did will save children’s lives.’

“This really hit me, in a primal way I was not expecting. A man who interacts with our youth every day, who sees their struggles, and their triumphs, and their failures, told me that my words meant a child might find hope for the future instead of despair, might dare to believe he or she could be accepted for who they are, not what someone else said they should be.

“Do you know how exceedingly ANGRY PUMA GROWL that is? A child should never have to feel that way. A child should never think that suicide is the only option, the only solution to the tormenting and bullying and unthinking viciousness adults so unwittingly pass along to the young. A child should never become a casualty in a war of oppression, of bigotry, of petty small mindedness.”

And there, in a beautiful polished nutshell, is the reason why it is so very important for major sporting figures and organisations, like the AFL and AFL Players Association, as well as individual players, to take a stand. The answer to those who say “they’re just a sporting organisation, it’s not their job to tackle homophobia”.

Oh yes, it most certainly is. And the benefits don’t end there. Listen to what Kluwe had to say about the first NFL player to come out.

“The first gay athlete to come out will have endorsement deals the likes of which you’ve never seen, Think about Gatorade, think about Nike, think about those huge companies that want to stamp their brand, their logo on this generation’s Jackie Robinson.  You’re telling me that’s not the biggest marketing opportunity in 50 years?  I mean, it’s huge.”

There are currently 28 NFL players who publicly support marriage equality – if you’re interested, the list is here. 28 players. And how many AFL players, coaches, officials, managers, administrators spoke up in support of Jason Ball when he started his petition to get the AFL to tackle the entrenched anti-gay culture of Aussie Rules?

None. Zero. Zip.

I understand that the AFL will eventually some sort of gesture towards the 25000 people who signed Jason’s petition. I hope desperately that it’s more than just running a few ads and a Pride Round. I hope it’s a root and branch examination and retooling of the sporting culture. I hope it’s an unshackling of players, coaches and officials so they can speak out as Kluwe did.

It’s telling that to date, all the talk from current and former AFL players has been on the other side. From the meat-heads, Neanderthals and suicide enablers. The Chris Kluwe’s of AFL are too scared to speak out – and that says volumes about the existing culture, and why it has to change. Now.

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)