Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana Johannsen: Plenty care that Thorpe has come out


Many fans may claim indifference but Aussie star's admission is important to youths struggling with sexuality

Swimmer Ian Thorpe. Photo / AP
Swimmer Ian Thorpe. Photo / AP

One of the most tired phrases you hear from sports fans is "no one cares".

We often receive feedback informing us no one cares about women's sport/America's Cup/where Ma'a Nonu will play his rugby next year/what Todd Carney gets up to in the urinal. One talkback caller the other day even claimed no one gives a toss about the Fifa World Cup. Well if you exclude a few billion people, then sure, you're bang on in your estimation.

Read more: I'm gay, says swimming star Thorpe

When people say "no one cares", what they actually mean is, "I don't care, and I assume the rest of the world shares my indifference."

The latest news no one cares about is Australian swimming superstar Ian Thorpe's confirmation at the weekend that he is gay.

From as young as 16 years old, Thorpe was repeatedly quizzed over his sexuality, subjected to mischievous comments and snide smirks as to who he might like to have sex with, while his hairstyle, wardrobe choices and mannerisms were constantly scrutinised for evidence of "gayness". Yet when the Olympic great is finally comfortable enough with himself to come out in a televised interview that has been syndicated around the world, the reaction has largely been "who cares?".

Although the "who cares? - what the guy gets up to in the privacy of his own bedroom is his own business" response is well-meaning, it minimises the courage it took for Thorpe to open up to the world on who he is. I certainly don't care and you may not care, but then it wasn't the people who consider it a matter of profound indifference whether someone is gay or straight who most likely compelled Thorpe to keep his sexuality a secret all those years. It was those who do care.

It would be wonderful to find ourselves in a world where Thorpe had no need to come out. A world where the closet needn't even exist because we're all free to get on with our love lives without needing to attach a label to it.

But the reality is we don't live in a world where one's sexuality doesn't matter. There are people who will consider Thorpe a sexual deviant. A sinful, immoral and godless violator of heavenly laws. At the less extreme end, there are people who will be put out that one of their sporting heroes, someone they perhaps greatly admired, does things in the bedroom they consider a bit icky.

Homophobia is still rife in the sporting world, and Thorpe's decision to come out is not as inconsequential as some of us tend to believe.

More importantly, there's another group of people who would have cared a great deal about Thorpe's announcement. For youths who may be questioning or struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, seeing Thorpe, fair dinkum Aussie sporting hero, tell the world he likes men can only be positive. You may or may not care to know, but having a sporting role model matters greatly to them.

- NZ Herald

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Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana has more than a decade's experience in sports journalism, joining the Herald in 2007 following stints with TVNZ and RadioSport. Over that time Dana has covered several major events including the 2011 Netball World Cup in Singapore, 2011 Rugby World Cup, 2012-13 Volvo Ocean Race, and the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco. A multi-award winning journalist, Dana was named New Zealand Sports Journalist of the Year in 2012 after scooping both the news and feature categories at the TP McLean Awards. The previous year she picked up the prize for best news break. She was also an inaugural recipient of the Sir John Wells scholarship at the 2009 NZSJA awards. Dana also writes a weekly sports column for the NZ Herald.

Read more by Dana Johannsen

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