Gay AFL Homophobic incident
4 min read

Just another day, just another punishment for an Australian Football League (AFL) representative using homophobic language on the football ground after Port Adelaide ruckman Jeremy Finlayson was suspended for three matches for uttering a homophobic word on the ground on Friday night.

The whole AFL world is twisting itself in knots over whether the penalty was fair or whether the punitive system for homophobic words is fair across the board, but have they completely missed the boat what is actually going on here?

Every LGBT+ person in the country knows about this incident now. They all “know” what was said and whether as a gay man you say “I’ve heard worse”, most are just worried how this affects that closeted gay footballer, who isn’t out and continually hears that football is anti-gay and has feelings that he will be verbally abused if he comes out.


The AFL prides itself on being holier-than-thou, that moral compass sport that supports everything from The Voice and reconciliation to multicultural rounds and supports all forms of diversity and equality, but still can’t sort out the fact they have a gay problem within their sport and their ranks and are happy just to provide the perfect talking points in the hope that the issue goes away.

Gay Nation approached both the AFL and the AFL Players Association(AFLPA) for comments regarding how much damage this was doing to the sport within the LGBT+ community.

The AFLPA CEO was happy to provide Gay Nation with a statement and information on what they were doing about the issue. We are yet to hear directly from the AFL but in a media release yesterday, they trotted out their media talking points through AFL general counsel Stephen Meade, buried within the announcement of the three-week penalty to Finlayson.

“The AFL is very clear that homophobia has no place in our game, nor in society,” Meade said in the statement.

“We want all people in LGBTQI+ communities to feel safe playing or attending our games and we know the incident that happened on the weekend does not assist this goal. As a code we will continue to work together to improve our game as a safe and inclusive environment for all.”

  • No mention of concrete steps the AFL taking to address this issue and create a safer environment for LGBTQ+ players and fans.
  • No mention of strategies that they are developing to create a more inclusive environment that encourages LGBTQ+ footballers to feel comfortable coming out.
  • No mention of whether diversity and inclusion training is not just being implemented but also effectively communicated and embraced at all levels of the organisation, and
  • No mention of plans they have to engage with fans and educate them about creating a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ supporters including the implementation of a Pride Round for the men’s competition in the AFL.

So what are they doing?

The AFLPA has adopted a Human Rights Framework, which seeks to ensure Human Rights are embedded with the industry and pointed to the AFL Collective Bargaining Agreement which sets out a commitment to progressing an equitable, inclusive and safe
environment for all persons involved in Australian Football.

They also pointed out that within their own Insights and Impact Report players suggest there is a culture of silence that exists among the playing group where players are uncomfortable raising concerns with the industry generally.

On Tuesday AFLPA CEO Paul Marsh said he was disappointed at the homophobic language used by Port Adelaide player Jeremy Finlayson towards an Essendon player on Friday night.

“There is no excuse and no place for this language in our game and society,” Marsh said.

“I have personally spoken to Jeremy today who has reiterated his remorse and apology for his actions. He understands there is a broader impact from his choice of words and the hurt it inflicts, and he is committed to educating himself and having a positive impact on the community moving forward. We have also spoken to Essendon players.

“We all have a responsibility to ensure a safe and inclusive workplace and society, and we are committed to our role in achieving this.”

AFLPA CEO Paul Marsh (Supplied)
AFLPA CEO Paul Marsh (Supplied)

The AFLPA provides valuable support to all its players and hopes by diversifying the ways players can raise issues, it will help players feel greater comfort within the industry.

Whether that leads to an AFL player feeling comfortable in coming out publicly, time will tell, whether it changes the attitude of players towards gay players or the community in general, time will also tell.

So would homophobia improve if a male AFL player came out?

You can only look at other sports to know that visibility and representation are extremely important.

Whether it’s been Ian Roberts in Rugby League, Tom Daley in Diving or Josh Cavallo in Football, to see openly gay athletes competing at the highest level has an effect for sure on other rainbow members but more importantly challenges the stereotypes of others.

All gay athletes still face discrimination but it is how much the sport stands with them and supports them along the journey.

Also, it’s about building bigger and more in-your-face celebrations, on a regular basis that can work to curb the discrimination.

Although the AFL has resisted the urge to build a competition-wide Men’s Pride Round it could be the vehicle to tackle the issue of homophobia head-on. They know how well Gather Round and Indigenous Round have been used to build up other areas of the football world, a Pride Round would allow all teams in the league to wave the rainbow flag at the same time.

Creating a pride round in the AFL is a passion project for the current Mr Gay Pride Australia Dion Alexander and he said the Pride Round is wonderful in the AFLW competition but it needs to be extended to the men’s competition.

“Currently, the Pride Game is just that, a singular game between the Sydney Swans and the St Kilda teams. It is yet to expand beyond the confines of these two clubs into an entire round of all 18 teams like other importantly themed games on the AFL fixture (Indigenous Round, Heritage Round and the ANZAC appeal round),” said Alexander.

“All are worthy of representation and should have their own round but the absence of a Pride Round misses an opportunity to send a clear message on the type of game the AFL wants Australian Rules Football to be.”

Imagine being a gay AFL player and seeing not only your club but every other club embracing who you are. Whether they are out or not, the feeling of acceptance and the way it can reduce homophobia could be the making of the man.

At the time of publication, the AFL had not responded to our enquiries.

Last Updated on Apr 11, 2024

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