A former Australian Rules champion has called on closeted gay AFL players to come out as a group to make it easier on them and to change the culture of the game.
Russell Greene is a Hawthorn triple premiership player with 304 games to his name and was named most valuable player in 1984.
Greene, in an interview with The Age has suggested the best way to ensure the AFL community will support any openly gay footballers is for them to come out in unison.
“We’re doing everything proactively that we can possibly do, but until four or five boys get together and say, ‘yeah, we are gay’, that culture still remains,” Greene explained to The Age.
“We need that to happen. We can’t put them in a headlock, but when the time comes and four or five or six or seven in a row come out and say, ‘yep, I’m proud and I’m gay’, that’s when … we’ll know that our culture will be changing.”
Greene has knowledge on this issue that many former footballers wouldn’t.
His eldest son Steven followed in his Father’s footsteps and played 42 games in the AFL.
The youngest Brent, was an elite sportsperson, regular athletics champion and sports house captain at Melbourne Grammar but Brent never took to footy after playing only in his very young years.
The day Brent completed his final year exams he returned home to his parents and told them he was gay.
In an interview last year, Russell Greene spoke about that day and why he cried when he was told that his son was gay.
“I said: ‘Brent, all you’ve wanted to say to me is that you’re gay’. And I started crying.
“I said: ‘Mate, I’m not crying because you’re gay. I don’t care what your sexuality is. It’s just all those years when I could have helped you’.”
The whole experience that his son has been through has helped Russell understand exactly the environment he grew up in and that’s why he wants that to be different for other gay sportspeople.
“Using the word ‘faggot’ and ‘poofter’ was just par for the course in footy. I still reflect on how many people I might have hurt,” he explained to The Age.
Russell Greene sat alongside St Kilda player Sam Gilbert, political candidate and equality campaigner Jason Ball and VicHealth mental well-being program boss Irene Verins on a panel in Melbourne last week to launch the inaugural AFL Pride Game, which will feature St Kilda and Sydney in round 21.
The Saints will don guernseys with rainbow-patterned numbers in round 21, while the Swans will wear rainbow socks in a show of support for the LGBTI community.
AFL football operations manager Mark Evans is confident the League has reached a point where a homosexual player would feel comfortable coming out.
“It ultimately has to be their decision. When a player or players are ready to do that, then so are we,” Evans said.
“We’re really confident that will be well handled at club level and it’ll help us take another conversation to the world stage.
“We’ve done some work with our player groups at AFL clubs and we know there’ll be some difficulties for a player who does come out.”
Evans hoped it would become an annual fixture.
“(St Kilda chief executive) Matt Finnis certainly has plans for that,” he said.