Jason Ball reflects on what the AFL's #PrideGame means, and how it all came about – read his incredible story:
History will be made this Saturday night when St Kilda take on Sydney in the AFL’s inaugural #PrideGame.
I'll proudly walk onto the field at Etihad Stadium to toss the coin. This is a moment I could only have dreamed of four years ago when I launched my petition on change.org calling on the AFL to do more to tackle homophobia.
Coming out in 2012, as the first Aussie Rules player at any level to do so in national media was nerve-wracking and daunting. I remember writing on Change.org:
"This is a terrifying petition to write. But it’s important. I’d like to tell you what it’s like being a gay footy player..."
Growing up, the footy club was the one place I thought I'd never be accepted. Homophobic language was routinely used on the field and in the stands and it left me scared to be myself. Struggling in silence with my identity caused me so much heartache and pushed me to a very dark place.
This week, I was blown away as the leaders of our national game proudly stood together to celebrate and welcome the LGBTI community. I stood in awe as I watched rainbow flags raised above AFL House. And I have been humbled and inspired to hear elite AFL players speak to the national media about the shocking suicide rates amongst LGBTI Australians and how sport has a role to play in tackling this problem.
It has been an extraordinary week, but it is only the beginning.
On Saturday night, the 50m lines at Etihad Stadium will be painted in rainbow colours – the international symbol of gay pride. St Kilda players will wear jumpers with rainbow numbers, Sydney players will wear rainbow socks, and goal umpires will use rainbow flags.
The broadcast of the game on Channel 7 will feature conversations to raise awareness about the damaging impact of homophobic language in sport, and include stories from the LGBTI community to help make the game of AFL that we all love welcoming and inclusive for everyone.
I have no doubt that the #PrideGame and the community discussion generated around it will change lives.
None of this could have happened without your support of my campaign on change.org back in 2012. Then, I was a lone voice. But your encouragement gave me the confidence that I was on the right side of history, and it pushed the AFL to act.
Since then we have seen:
- For the first time ever, the AFL included sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination training for AFL players
- AFL players marched in the Pride March for the first time
- The AFL screened No To Homophobia ads on the big screen
- The AFL Players Association launched a campaign against homophobic language
- The has AFL joined other major sporting codes in signing an anti-homophobia and inclusion policy
- The AFL publicly backed a grassroots "Pride Cup" pioneered by my local club Yarra Glen, which inspired St Kilda & Sydney to take the initiative to a national level
And now, with a #PrideGame the LGBTI community can truly feel part of the AFL family. I cannot wait for Saturday night. It will be a groundbreaking event that will change hearts and minds.
We have come so far in such a short period of time, and I hope this weekend you will join me in celebrating that achievement.
For every kid struggling to come to terms with who they are, for the kid who loves footy but fears they will never be accepted in our game, this is for you.