Homophobia has always been a staple in sports locker rooms and stadium bleachers. Mike Nicholson reminds us that, though we’ve made progress, we still have a ways to go.
Something is happening in sporting arenas around the world. Organisations, players and their supporters are moving with the times and fighting antisocial behavior at games. Gone are the days when the use of terms such as “f-ggot” and “p—fter” are acceptable taunts. Players like Jason Collins (NBA) and Robbie Rogers (MLS) are the reason why we as supporters must stop and think about what we’re saying.
But there is still a long way to go.
During the NBA playoffs we saw how quickly and naturally Roy Hibbert uttered the homophobic phrase “no homo” during a press conference. This issue is not going away without a lot of work.
As a keen Australian rules football (AFL) follower, I have been at games where disgusting taunts towards players and officials have been yelled from the crowd, yet I did nothing but cringe. In these instances it is often hard to identify the perpetrators of such vile “cheering”. I haven’t been brave enough to stand up and tell these idiotic punters that this behavior is unacceptable, particularly in a largely familial environment.
But one South Australian woman did what I could not.
Last month, an opposition footballer went down on the field with a serious injury. A few home supporters started yelling obscenities and homophobic slurs at him. She tweeted about the incident and reported it to the club. The response was swift; the club’s president condemned the individual and his actions whilst reminding all supporters to be passionate without being derogatory. The woman appeared on a morning radio show to discuss the events that transpired.
As someone who wants to see a positive environment for all involved with sport, this outcome is to be applauded. It showed steps in the right direction for handling these unacceptable incidences. [Although if you listen to the interview you can hear one of the presenters (an ex-footballer) basically representing the need for more work to be done. His ignorance and attitude towards the whole situation is astounding, yet a product of a bygone era.]
Luckily, these occurrences are becoming more isolated, involve a small minority and result in total backlash from the media, clubs and supporters. It’s a positive sign that this is where we are moving as a society.
What concerns me, though, is that these supporters feel the need to use hateful words to get their point across. I have been at games when my temper has got the better of me and a curse word has escaped my mouth but the embarrassment I feel usually stops this from occurring again. But what is the obsession with using a person’s sexuality, regardless of accuracy, as a verbal attack on their ability to play sport? The message perpetuated is that somehow being homosexual makes you the lesser, worse, terrible; this is not what we should be broadcasting to anyone anywhere.
Unfortunately, this attitude starts quite early. As a youngster, if you miskick the ball someone might say, “that’s gay!” During lunchtime games it was commonplace to hear the terms “f-ggot” and “p—fter” being slung around like nobody’s business. Innocent school children don’t really know what they are saying, but this kind of language is damaging and needs to be stamped out. I’m proud of initiatives, such as Footy4IDAHO, that the AFL have put in place to educate fans that this type of behavior has no place in our game. And guess what? The beauty of this message is that it can be applied to any sport, in any country around the world.
This is not about being a wowser or being too politically correct. It’s about treating everyone as you would like to be treated. Imagine it’s your son or daughter out on the field and how you would feel about homophobic taunts hurled towards them.
Be sporting-like on and off the field. Support your team with passion, banter with opposition fans (maybe every once in a while let out a cheeky, good-natured boo), but let’s not cultivate an environment that accepts homophobia as a form of cheering. It’s just not on.
Photo: AP/Michael Conroy