Josh Cavallo, the only openly gay male in Australian sport, has slammed the actions of the seven Manly players boycotting the team’s “everyone in league” jersey as proof that homophobia still exists at sport’s highest levels.
The Adelaide United defender, who made worldwide headlines when he came out last year, said he was disappointed but not surprised to learn that seven players had refused to wear the Sea Eagles’ rainbow jersey, a decision based on religious and cultural grounds. They will miss Thursday night’s NRL clash against the Sydney Roosters.
Having spent all but the past nine months of his A-League career in the closet, it was only due to the support of his teammates and coaches that Cavallo felt ready to reveal his sexual identity. He fears for the wellbeing of young rugby league players in the same position.
“We now know that these players would not welcome an LGBTQ teammate or fan,” Cavallo told the Herald and The Age. “It actually shows us that having a gay or bisexual teammate bothers them.
“Not only is that disappointing, but it is a dangerous message to be sending to fellow players who live in silence and are struggling with their identity and everyday life.
Josh Cavallo became the first openly gay male in Australian sport when he came out nine months ago.Credit:Getty
“It’s another example of how sports remain a highly visible reminder that homophobia and transphobia persists on and off the playing fields.
“Don’t assume we are all straight. The lack of ‘out’ rugby [league] players doesn’t mean that they’re not playing and competing alongside you.”
Cavallo, 22, became the world’s only active male top-flight footballer to come out as gay on the eve of the 2021-22 A-League Men season. While he has been the target of some homophobic abuse, through social media and in person at a match, there has been overwhelming support for his decision, which he was lauded for by some of the world’s biggest clubs and most prominent footballers.
Since then, English player Jake Daniels, who represents Blackpool, and Leinster’s Irish rugby star Nick McCarthy have come out and cited Cavallo as their inspiration.
“Coming out, especially in the public eye, takes a tremendous amount of courage,” Cavallo said. “The support from your teammates, your coaches, the club, the league and our country has a huge impact on the next professional athlete that is looking to live their life more openly.
“To not have this support from your teammates can be devastating to a closeted player. Or perhaps it’s a moment when we all come together as players, fans and allies to send a strong message that you are no longer going to bully us into silence.”
Asked for his thoughts on how sporting teams and organisations should navigate the clash between inclusive gestures like Manly’s jersey – which featured rainbow-coloured detailing where there would normally be white piping – and religious and cultural beliefs, Cavallo said his own club was a textbook example.
Adelaide staged a pride game last season, and the concept had the backing of the entire dressing room – including one player who, according to sources, had similar religious-based concerns but wanted to show support for Cavallo. That player sought, and was granted, permission to take part by a representative of his faith.
“Your relationship with religion is completely up to you, but how we treat each other as teammates on and off the field matters,” Cavallo said.
“Support for our fellow LGBTQ teammates who live in the closet matters. Visibility and representation matters.
“Perhaps Manly Sea Eagles and the NRL could look to my club Adelaide United, the A-Leagues, the PFA and my teammates to learn how best to support its LGBTQ players, coaches, fans and teammates on the field and in the front offices.”
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