SJ and I have agreed on almost every major parenting decision we’ve had to make together. Our ideals and philosophies have, happily, aligned almost perfectly, so we’ve never really had to nut out a real conflict of ideology when it’s come to raising Arty.
The one exception has been a big one: his football team.
We both love AFL, but support different clubs – SJ the Fremantle Dockers, and I the Collingwood Magpies. Arty was six months old when the winner of his first game dictated the colour of the baby-sized jersey we bought him.
It was my team, and I was chuffed to bits.
Arty’s first game: Collingwood v Fremantle
I’ve supported the ‘Pies since I was a kid. My cousins told me they were the best team, I believed them unquestioningly, and pledged my allegiance to the black and white. True to the stereotype, I’ve always been a one-eyed fan. I wouldn’t hear a bad word said about my club, and the idea of ever questioning my loyalty would have been unthinkable.
Until this week.
For Lumumba to speak out about this within an institution like the AFL is commendable. While the league are making their first steps towards being actively inclusive of the LGBTI community, they’re working against a deeply ingrained culture of homophobia. Anti-gay slurs, like Brian Taylor’s “poofter” remark happen all too often, and are routinely downplayed or handled badly by those in leadership. To live and work among this, yet choose to stand against it is brave.
But even more impressive than this initial show of courage, was Lumumba’s determination to stand by his convictions even in the face of personal sacrifice.
At 27, Lumumba’s career has a long way to go. He has been a premiership and All-Australian player, worked immensely hard to earn leadership roles within his club, and has a great deal to offer the code both on and off the field.
If he was thinking solely about his career, it would have been safe, and smart, to turn a blind eye.
Instead, he behaved like a genuine ally.
He told his club that if they didn’t take action, he was leaving.
Unsurprisingly, this has earned him criticism and abuse from more than one quarter. The likes of Susie O’Brien are writing ‘sit down and shut up’ opinion pieces:
“Yes there is homophobia in the AFL… but if players react to every single slight or slur, they risk not being taken seriously when they raise an issue of more substance.”
[Quote from a piece by Susie O’Brien in The Herald Sun, September 5th, 2014. I choose not to link to the article, because they do not deserve your traffic. If you feel you must read the piece, I suggest you do so on Rebeca Shaw’s blog, where she has reproduced it with excellent commentary.]
Ex-players are calling for him to be dumped from the team:
“I just see Harry being a little bit unsettling, based on him going politically mad. I reckon that is a petty thing that he has taken, created a bushfire out of a spot fire… Why do you always have to question the culture of the footy club? … How far do you go? How often do you let an individual ridicule your club and its standards and its culture and its beliefs?”
– Mick McGuane, as quoted in the Guardian
These charming individuals have even brought up Lumumba’s history with depression (another topic on which he has had the courage to be extraordinarily honest and forthright, in spite of massive cultural pressure) in cynical attempts to discredit him. As though having experienced depression makes you crazy, and negates the validity of anything you might have to say.
They’ve attacked his performance on the field, as though having a less than perfect season precludes you from having a reliable moral compass, or a right to speak up.
The wider media coverage has been similarly dismissive of Lumumba, describing him as a “disgruntled” player, who is overreacting to what “he felt was” a slur. None of the Melbourne papers are calling this what it was: a homophobic act.
They’re making the story about the man, because they’d rather not talk about the issue.
But what I have found most difficult to stomach in all this, is Collingwood’s failure to respond appropriately.
As a lesbian fan and member, I feel I have been betrayed by my club.
They will, in all likelihood, come out with a carefully prepared statement filled with meaningless platitudes about equality, and vague expressions of regret. But as far as I’m concerned, they shown their true colours in their initial dismissive response to Lumumba.
They should have spoken out swiftly and decisively, denouncing homophobic behaviour within the club.
They should have acknowledged that that homophobia hurts everyone, so should be stamped out immediately whenever it appears.
They should have said that their players and staff have a right to feel safe in their workplace, and not be confronted by hatefulness such as this.
They should have held Heritier Lumumba up as a champion of equality, and commended him as a role model.
Instead, they’ve kept quiet. And they’re in talks with his agent about releasing him from his contract so he can go elsewhere.
So today I’m doing what I thought I never would: I’m breaking up with my once beloved club.
After years of loyalty, I’m handing in my membership.
Collingwood, and other AFL clubs, have got to realise that they cannot expect solidarity and loyalty from their LGBTI supporters when they don’t offer it in return.
I wonder if we can get Lumumba to play for Freo…