Young Footballer begs AFL to say NO at MCG
A young country footballer, who has become Australia’s first unofficial openly gay amateur player, is calling on the AFL to act further against homophobia.
On the back of the AFL’s recent support for the No to Homophobia campaign, 24 year-old Yarra Glen Seniors player, Jason Ball, is summoning AFL bosses to air the campaign ads at the MCG on September 30.
“What we’re asking now, which you would think wouldn’t be too difficult, is to take that next step and put it up on the big screen at the Grand Final, to really show AFL supporters and players who are gay, that the AFL has their back,” Ball told MCV.
Ball’s petition, which was launched on Sunday, has received widespread support in just over 24 hours.
At the time of press, the tally was at 9,038 signatures.
“It’s been an amazing feeling, I really didn’t know what to expect being the first Aussie Rules player at amateur level to actually go public with their story, but it’s blown my expectations out of the water in terms of support,” he said.
Ball said everyone from extended friends and family to the media have championed his petition.
“Random strangers on Twitter and Facebook are just flooding my inbox with words of support and appreciation.”
No to Homophobia campaign spokesperson, Anna Brown, says Ball’s story is one that will no doubt boost awareness of the issue.
“The AFL was the first sporting organisation to officially back the No to Homophobia campaign,” She said.
“We believe the AFL is committed to fighting discrimination and prejudice in this area and there is no doubt they will find ways to put this into practice – both on and off the field.”
Beyond Blue CEO Kate Carnell supports Ball, and thinks the AFL needs to take another step towards equality.
“There are a lot of gay players at a professional level, but the fact that none of them have declared their sexuality shows there is a perception that it’s a cultural problem,” she said.
“Jason‘s stance has bought it to into the open and that, is a very good thing.”
After years of playing football and keeping his sexuality preference quiet, Ball said his teammates have been supportive of his petition.
“Around our club words like ‘faggot’, ‘homo’ and ‘poof’ have dropped out of the vocabulary of my teammates, because I think it became very real to them that it has an effect on me and that I’m one of their mates,” he said.
Fellow teammate Ben Strong said he holds great respect for Ball’s suggestion.
“I think it’s a fantastic thing that Jason’s doing and a very brave thing, too,” he said.
“The AFL is quite a juggernaut in subculture, and in Melbourne especially… if the AFL was to get behind it, I think it would relieve a lot of pressure.”
“There have only been a couple of times that I have heard a gay slur [on the field] and it was quite cringe worthy," he said.
When asked whether there were any penalties for homophobic slurs during play, Ball said he was unsure of the rules and that discipline was “really yet to be seen at a country footy level”, but thinks that after coverage of his petition, might be considered.
In gearing up to play their own season grand final, Ball and his club don’t think his public efforts will have a negative effect on their match this Saturday.
“It’s yet to be seen whether the opposition will use it to their advantage in any way, or whether they’ll be silent on the issue or whether they’ll be supportive,” he said.
When contacted for comment on the stance of Ball’s petition, an AFL spokesperson said the organisation was pleased to support the No to Homophobia campaign, but declined to say whether it would air the ads on Grand Final Day.
“Football is a game for everyone and the AFL supports diversity and respectful relationships at all levels of the sport. Through our policies and actions we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”
Image: Jason Ball being interviewed by reporters