Western Bulldogs great Bob Murphy has finally opened up about the controversial comments that saw Jason Akermanis axed from the AFL club in 2010. Akermanis - a three-time premiership winner and Brownlow Medallist with Brisbane before moving to the Bulldogs - says he was unfairly labelled a homophobe and driven out of the sport after a divisive article he wrote about homosexuality in sport.
The newspaper column from Akermanis carried the headline: “Stay in the closet”. In it, Akermanis argued against coming out as a gay professional footy player, suggesting it would not be "worth" the "heavy burden" he says would come from being the first openly gay player in the AFL.
Reflecting on the controversy in a 'Four Corners' episode aired on the ABC on Monday night, Akermanis - who is now a real estate agent - stood by his comments and said he was unfairly tarnished as a bigot and driven out of the sport. “I got branded everything - homophobic, you name it,” Akermanis said. “Just because I write about it and you don’t agree with it doesn’t mean... I’m scared of gay people, which is just complete crap.
“Look, I personally don’t care one way or the other. As long as you don’t sort of throw it in my face or tell me where I’m not interested. I don’t go around telling people what I do in my private life.”
Akermanis questioned why any gay player would want a spotlight shone on themselves by coming out, seemingly unable to fathom the liberating effect that such a move could have on that person's life. “Why would you bother. We don’t care, it’s up to you. Why would you want to? Think about it. Is it worth it? They’re good questions to ask. You’ve got to weigh it up. It is a heavy burden.”
Reporter Louise Milligan asked: “There were people who disagreed with what you said. What about the people who were hurt by what you said.”
Akermanis replied: “I always say to anyone that’s hurt, that’s your issue, that’s your problem. If you need to seek counselling go and do it.”
Bob Murphy 'disgusted' by Jason Akermanis' comments
The Western Bulldogs terminated the contract of Akermanis two months after his newspaper column. Murphy - who was a teammate of his at the time - has only now broken his silence on the controversy and admits he was appalled by Akermanis' stance.
“I was disgusted, I was embarrassed and I was hurt,” Murphy told the 'Four Corners' program. “But then the hurt took a turn - ‘what if one of my teammates is gay?’”
ABC reporter Milligan noted in the 'Four Corners' program that Murphy “still struggles to say his name” and labelled Akermanis' words in the newspaper column as "abhorrent sh*t". Murphy went on to say he hopes a gay player will one day find the strength to come out in the AFL and insists when that momentous day comes, they will be accepted and embraced with open arms.
“You will be fought for and supported,” the Bulldogs great said. “If there was a dissenting voice, they would be told to shut the f*** up or get out.
“I would think that for a player to stand in front of his teammates and say, ‘I’m gay and I’m one of you and I want you to accept me’, like that would be a superpower for your football team and club. I want a gay footballer in my football club so we can wrap our arms around him and say, ‘You’re one of us. We love you. You’re brave. You’re braver than anyone in this league, so that makes us braver than anyone else’. That will help us win. Then we might get change.”
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