The dust has just begun to settle on the AFLW’s inaugural season after the AFL honoured the women playing with an another historic first. For the first time it was the girls turn to get all glammed-up, walk the coral carpet, and for some, be awarded for their efforts during the season.
In many ways the biggest award of the night was never in doubt of going the way of Adelaide Crows superstar Erin Phillips. After a phenomenal season which included, a premiership medal, best on ground grand final medal, the AFL Players Association MVP award, Goal of the Year, Adelaide Crows Club Champion, and finally the inaugural AFLW best and fairest medal.
While Erin Phillips is clearly going to need a bigger trophy cabinet, it wasn’t just about what awards she won, but who she shared her elation and joy of winning with. Her wife, Tracey Phillips.
It was ‘that kiss’ that was broadcast everywhere, from the newspapers, to Facebook, on TV, and even on the AFL’s own front page. There have been many opinion pieces written about ‘that kiss’ and how the AFLW have once again shown up their ‘big brother,’ and how the football world has or should react to this moment.
With that also comes the darker side to the coverage of ‘that kiss.’ People questioning why it matters, why this is the talking point after Erin Phillip’s incredible season in the AFLW, and of course that this doesn’t belong in ‘Australia’s game.’
In regards to the kiss being broadcast everywhere and anywhere, and amongst the comments about it being made, there is a silent majority to which ‘that kiss’ matters to most.
In 2015, ‘Out on the Fields’ found that 80% of Australian’s believe LGBTQI+ people were not accepted in sporting culture. And more specifically 70% believed that youth sport was unsafe for LGBTQI+ youth.
This is who ‘that kiss’ would matter to most. Imagine being 14, 16, or 17 and having just began grappling with your sexuality, and seeing Erin Phillips embrace and celebrate with her wife so openly. It would blow your mind as a young LGTQI+ person.
It would make you think, “oh wait, I can be who I am and be accepted in sport.” Furthermore you would see there is room for you to be who you are and excel. Visibility like this does wonders for the self-esteem, and the confidence of LGBTQI+ youth, and that is something I can personally vouch for.
In a perfect world, someone kissing their partner to celebrate an award shouldn’t be news. However, while Australian politicians continue to refuse the notion of marriage equality, or when Beyond Blue continues to report that LGTBQI+ people are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety or substance abuse, scenes like this need to be news.
This picture needs to be seen far and wide, to broadcast a message of acceptance, to say you can be who you are and still be supported, cared for, and loved.
While this picture will go down as one of the most important of the inaugural AFLW competition, there is still a long way to go.
The AFL has taken steps in recent years with the introduction of the Pride Game last year, and more recently the AFL’s public support of transgender players in the game in the media.
However, as reported throughout the week AFL CEO Gill McLaughlin’s signature was missing from the CEO’s letter of support for marriage equality sent to parliament in early March. This is a big deal when you consider that the FFA, NRL, and Basketball Australia had all signed for their support.
The AFL has also never had an openly gay player at the elite level. It should be an imperative of the league to foster a culture that would make a player feel safe and supported when the time is right.
With these blights on the AFL’s record for the acceptance of LGBTQI+ people, it is important to recognise the significance of not just ‘that kiss’ but also it’s coverage. It will change hearts and mind across the country, but most importantly will show LGBTQI+ youth that there is a place in sport for them.