For Jason Ball, the one of the biggest positives to come from his experience of coming out, has been the response of his teammates at the Yarra Glen Football Club.
Ball, 24, fronted a campaign last year to promote inclusion in footy and said his teammates have been nothing but supportive.
“When I launched the campaign on change.org I didn’t really expect it to get the attention that it did,” said Ball.
“But what meant the most to me were my teammates that wanted to be a part of it.
“One of my mates spoke on TV and said ‘I think what Bally is doing is really great and I think other players could take a leaf out of his book, and when we cross that line, we’re one team’.
“That was really a proud moment for me and I think that being open about it has certainly made me feel more part of the club.”
The Centre Half Back told his story at the recent AFL Players’Association Induction Camp. He told draftees that footy should be a place that includes everyone, no matter who they are.
Having grown up in a football orientated household and dominating local football in the Yarra Valley since the age of five, Ball is keen to break down negative stereotypes surrounding the ‘coming out’ of gay footballers.
“I figured out I was gay when I was about 14 years old. At the time, I had pretty much no positive idea of what that meant, especially in football, because there haven’t been any examples of gay players to look to,Ball said
“I really had no idea in my head that there was a light at the end of the tunnel and it took a while for me to accept that for myself.
“Eventually telling family and friends was something that I did but the football club felt like the one place that I’d never be able to come out.”
Ensuring players are in an environment that upholds ideas of inclusion and unity is a notion wholly supported by the AFL Players Association, and is something Jason has seen first-hand since informing his teammates of his sexuality. “I had two phases to my footy life, one is before I came out and one is after,” he said.
“Being in a footy environment, I always second guessed everything that I ever said or did, out of fear that the boys would figure out that I was gay, and it really limited the bond and friendships that I could have had with those guys.”
While Ball said homophobic slurs were a regular part of the game and emphasised how these attacks could be personally damaging, he said the unity displayed by his teammates once his sexuality was commonly known is something Ball continues to appreciate and value. “It wasn’t actually so much that I ‘came out’ as that my teammates figured it out or heard from mutual friends, and they actually approached me to say they knew and that it was not a big deal. That was a pretty big moment for me.”
Ball credits the moment his teammates were aware of his sexuality as the beginning of the journey in belonging in the footy world, and hopes that by sharing his story it will help inspire others.