Dana Johannsen on sport

Dana Johannsen is a Herald sport writer

Dana Johannsen: Footy stars strangely silent when it comes to gay rights

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New Zealand comedian Mike King. Photo / Wayne Drought
New Zealand comedian Mike King. Photo / Wayne Drought

The push to legalise same-sex marriage is gathering momentum worldwide.

You may be wondering what that has to do with sport - well, nothing. And it seems our top sportspeople want to keep it that way.

Comedian and occasional social justice campaigner Mike King put the word out on Twitter seeking a high-profile rugby or league star to help promote the marriage equality bill.

For a medium that prompts frenzied banter, the response was underwhelming.

So he asked again. Still nothing.

And so King put out one last final plea.

"One more time. Wanted: a famous footy playa to join mike king in a video supporting gay marriage this Friday. Anyone know anyone? No jokes."

You could almost see the tumbleweed rolling down the information superhighway.

It is extremely curious that despite various polls showing that 63-70 per cent of New Zealanders are in support of the marriage equality bill, no high-profile rugby or league stars - a breed who are often busy tweeters - were willing to get involved with the campaign.

They're willing to support animal rights, anti-smoking campaigns, stand up against violence to women, and speak up on youth suicide. Piri Weepu has even taken on La Leche in the breastfeeding debate.

But same-sex marriage? Not on your nelly.

It seems gay rights has become sport's last taboo.

Players do not seem to want to go near it in case their own sexuality is called into question. I'm not sure who will make the leap from seeing a sportsperson speaking out against homophobia or discrimination as being confirmation that they are gay.

"Oh so [insert favourite footy player's name here] is supporting the gays ... he must be one of 'em."

Given the reluctance to speak up on gay rights in sporting circles, it is little wonder that in 2012, New Zealand does not have an openly gay, top flight athlete.

And before anyone tries to claim that is because there are none - they are out there. They are just not out.

Our athletes are not alone in their reluctance to speak out - it is a trend that has been reflected through sport across the globe.

A high-profile campaign in England calling for sports organisations to rally against homophobia went largely ignored by English Football.

Campaign organisers wrote to every professional English soccer club asking them to get involved and suggested a number of ways the club, coaches and players could raise awareness of the issue. Just 16 of the 160 clubs in the seven English divisions responded positively to the call to arms - only six of those being premier league clubs.

The snub drew a furious backlash from government ministers and equality campaigners, who accused soccer stars of ignoring their social responsibility to take a stand on an issue that has been highlighted as a bigger problem in British football than racism.

But there have been isolated incidents of brave sportspeople speaking out on these issues.

Wallabies loose forward and all-round good guy David Pocock has made a stand on the marriage equality debate, as well as many other social issues. The devout Christian has promised he and his partner Emma Palandri will not legally marry until their gay friends have the same rights.

Brave on the field, Pocock recognises his ability to use his profile for something other than profit.

- NZ Herald

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