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In Defense of Out Athletes

In Defense of Out Athletes

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When I first read Australian footballer Jason Akermanis's commentary Tuesday morning urging gay players to stay in the closet, I had to laugh. I was not laughing with him, or at him, but at the irony of the whole story. Akermanis plays in a tough sport. It's hard-hitting and physically demanding. His comments about homoerotic activity in the locker rooms almost had me in tears, both tears of laughter and tears of sadness. I had to laugh, as here was Akermanis admitting that yes, "I engage in homoerotic activity, but I'm not gay." These are comments we have come to expect from the homophobic, intolerant, and ignorant society of today.

In a football locker room somewhere in Australia, a young gay boy, teenager -- or even one of Akermanis's teammates -- is reading these comments, and Akermanis's words have the power to send athletes into such disarray about their sexuality, they'll likely be left feeling confused and alone.

In my experience as an athlete -- dealing with my sexuality as a teenager -- the times I cried and fought off thoughts and feelings about my sexuality number in the hundreds. These players in locker rooms -- not just in Australia, but all over the world -- will read Akermanis's comments and take away one thing ... the same thought I had growing up: I cannot be gay. I cannot be a successful sportsman and be gay. They will be left battling themselves and their sexuality on a a deep and disturbing level.

Akermanis's comments to MTR Radio three days after his initial statement are directed toward athletes like myself, Gareth Thomas, and Matthew Mitcham -- the ones who are not afraid to stand up for equality and to combat homophobia in sports.

"There's articles everywhere written from these guys and all of them, of course, are gay so they think they know everything and they know more. They're making it personal about me, which is a very dumb thing to do because all I wanted to do was debate the facts. ... Maybe I've got a problem with it. What am I supposed to do? Do you think I'm the only one? That is an uncomfortable situation to be in.""

We do know more than you, Mr. Akermanis, because we are gay and we have been there. Did you ever contemplate suicide because you were born a heterosexual male? I don't think so. It is personal, and when you sit there and slaughter the hopes of gay athletes all over the world, we are going to make it personal. Yes, it may be uncomfortable for you to have a gay player in your locker room because, after all, what would become of those harmless homoerotic games? Your stereotype of gay male athletes is incorrect. Gay rights are a human rights movement, Mr. Akermanis. We do suffer from prejudice because of people like you. Instead of welcoming diversity and being a strong role model to your peers and the youth of Australia, you send the message that if you're different, you should hide it, because it personally makes you uncomfortable.

I told my story to encourage young athletes to accept who they are and to show them that, no matter who you are, where you are from, the color of your skin, or your sexual preference, you can achieve your dreams. If that was me sitting across from Akermanis in the Western Bulldogs change room, I would be so confused about where to go.

When I came out the weight that was lifted off my shoulders was immense. I felt free. I could finally be myself in front of everyone. I no longer had anything to hide.

How would you feel, Mr. Akermanis, if a gay player was sitting across from you? How would you feel if you sent him so far into depression that he chooses to take his own life? It's happening all over the world -- 11-year-old boys are killing themselves after being taunted at school for being gay. Men are being imprisoned because they choose to show love for one another. You have children; ask yourself what would you want for them if one of them turned out to be gay.

Jason Akermanis is never too far from the media spotlight and never too far from a controversy. The coach of the Western Bulldogs, the CEO of the Australian Football League, and the general manager of the Players Association have distanced themselves from Akermanis's comments. Do I want an apology from Jason Akermanis? No. It won't change anything -- the damage can't be undone. I don't think he gave much thought to the impact his comments would have. Akermanis knows all too well about discrimination and about being a minority -- some of his family members are deaf. His comments were for attention and attention only. Most of his comments are usually ignored, but this time he has gone too far. Plain and simple, his comments come off as an attack.

Akermanis's comments may have put some athletes back a step or two, but my message, Mr. Akermanis, is this. You might have ruined the hopes of some aspiring athletes out there. You may have sent our human rights movement back a step, but I came out and told my story to enlighten people like you. Am I any different as an athlete because I am gay?

I am glad you started this debate, as I am now sure you see how ridiculous you sound. Everyone knows what you said is wrong -- mothers, fathers, and athletes across the world know you were wrong. Now is the time to come out, be proud of who you are. Gay is a three-letter word, but it does not define you as just that.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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