To gay or not to gay – is that the question?

Posted: July 13, 2014 in Ranting
Tags: , ,
Ian Thorpe - Getty Images

Ian Thorpe – Getty Images

Ian Thorpe is arguably Australia’s greatest ever Olympic and general athlete in the swimming pool. Certainly his Olympic record is unrivalled by any other Australia. Thorpey was supremely gifted in the water. One of his attributes was a pair of bloody big feet which helped him gain extra drive through the water. In 2000 Thorpey was accused by the German head coach of their swimming team as being a drug cheat allegedly proven so by the size of his feet. The reality is simply that he was simply built that way. And he became a real sporting icon to a great many Australians.

After retiring from competition in the swimming pool, Thorpey has had his problems with things like depression and alcohol abuse. Such problems are hardly an isolated instance but often prove the case with retired athletes for whom their sport has been pretty much the dominant factor their life for most of their life to that point. And suddenly it is gone. Thorpey opened about these aspects of his life in his 2012 autobiography, This is Me.

For a long time Thorpey was hounded by suggestions that he was gay and he point-blank denied this in the autobiography. However things have taken a different slant the last few days.

Channel Ten started an advertising blitz a few days about Thorpey to be interviewed by the doyen of interviewers, Sir Michael Parkinson and the ‘admission’ that Thorpe was actually gay.

The television station has been making plenty of this as a marketing ploy, really sensationalising it. My initial reaction was ‘he’s gay – so what?’ But I didn’t particularly like the heavy use of ‘admitting’ he was gay, almost as if he had committed some sort of crime. Nor did I like the sensationalist manner in which it was being pushed. Yet I still had an overall sense of ‘so what?’

tom ballard

Tom Ballard

As is usually the case, there is the other side of the coin. Tom Ballard, a bloody funny comedian and activist for gay issues who happens to be a gay man, has pointed out another view. He relates just how hard it was for him in his teens to tell his parents of his sexuality (and he was fortunate enough to have a very supporting family). But how much harder would it have been for someone who is a sporting icon and practically treated as public property for a long time, to publicly come out? When I told my family (who only see me these days on my annual trip down south around Christmas time) that I am a drunk and was doing the whole AA thing, it wasn’t easy. Given some of my earlier escapades, perhaps they weren’t that surprised. But for Ballard when he was a 15 year-old, struggling with his sexuality and dreading coming out, having an icon like Thorpey come out would have been a God-send to him.

It is a very sad fact that people in arenas such as sport still feel pressured to hide it if they are homosexual. About 20 years ago, Ian Robertson, an elite Rugby League athlete in Sydney, told the world he was gay. And Robertson was opening himself up to what would surely be as homophobic sporting arena as is out there – professional football. If there is such a thing as a stereotype of a gay man, I dare say Robertson was pretty damned far removed from it – big, tough and well known as a hard man on the field. And yet ‘our’ Thorpey still felt too pressured to come out.

I am still less than impressed with the way a commercial television station decided to sensationalise this but I am now hopeful that perhaps we have seen an important step forward to help eradicate homophobia and remove this pressure on young people who deserve our support, not victimisation. And at the end of it all, I sincerely hope that Ian Thorpe will be realising some peace within himself.

Over to you – any thoughts on the issue?

Ross sig

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