Opinion: Why A-League footballer Josh Cavallo coming out as gay is big news

OPINION: You could almost hear the voices in living rooms across New Zealand, when the story of A-League footballer Josh Cavallo announcing his sexuality played on Newshub's sports news.

"This isn't news" and "who cares?" people would have said. Perhaps you even said that yourself.

But the fact that it is news is the news.

As Jim Kayes wrote in this month's NZ Rugby World magazine, being gay in rugby is "so rare" that there is yet to be a openly gay professional rugby-playing man.

Before the release of this month's edition of the magazine, Kayes spoke to Chiefs and All Blacks halfback Brad Weber, who believes it is virtually impossible for a gay man to make it to the top of the sport, not because they aren't good enough, but because the game will have driven them out by then.

Weber says the language used in schools and clubs, and the culture it reflects, would drive out even the most talented man, if they were struggling with their sexuality or if they knew they were gay.

By speaking out, Aussie footballer Cavallo has shown everyone his determination and pride in himself got him through years of fighting the normalised homophobia in the sporting world.

Cavallo says he "was ashamed I'd never be able to do what I love and be gay".

"All I want to do is play football and be treated equally. I'm tired of trying to perform at the best of your ability and to live this double life.

"It's exhausting," he says on social media. "It's something that I don't want anyone to experience." 

In a television interview, Cavallo says it was at the end of an awards night last year that he knew it was time to stop hiding.

"Instead of celebrating, I sat in my bed crying that night," he says. "Having to constantly lie to the people I cared about wasn't the way I wanted to live the rest of my life."

A study on sexuality in sport entitled 'Out on the Fields' claims 78 percent of sporting participants witness or experience homophobia in sport.

More than half of gay men, nearly 50 percent of lesbians and 27 percent of straight men say they have personally experienced homophobia in a sporting environment, but here's one statistic that needs to change before any others will.

Twenty percent of gay men do not play youth team sports, with 55 percent of them saying negative experiences in school PE class turned them off team sports or they feared they would be bullied. Twenty-nine percent of gay youth fear discrimination from coaches and officials.  

A staggering 76 percent believe an openly gay, lesbian or bisexual person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event.

This is no revelation. At an All Blacks game last year, I got into a discussion with a fellow spectator, who insisted on referring to things as "so gay".

"What I meant was he's a lame-ass," was his excuse.

That encounter still resonates. Had I been in that same spot as a 14-year old boy, I may not have attended an All Blacks game again in my life, I may not have even watched them on television.

And the news headlines highlighted at the time will always remain.

At primary school, I played netball and was the only boy on the team. I even got the trophy for 'Best Netballer at Mahora School' (which I had to share with a girl, so parents didn't get upset, but that's another story).

Back to where it all started, some 20 years later.
Back to where it all started, some 20 years later. Photo credit: Dan Lake

I also played cricket, both batting and bowling, but Weber is right. There was only so far one could go with all the bullying and homophobic commentary.

I'm a lot older now and I'm a fan of many things that some would say are the opposite of "so gay". Cricket, rugby, Supercars... the list goes on.

"I'm sure there are thousands of gay fans of these sports, but none of them are out and proud on the field.

It sounds cheesy, but it's true. Pioneers like Josh Cavallo do more than change the game, they change the future and they change lives.

One day, there may be an 'out' All Black, who changes men's rugby culture here in New Zealand too, but until then, let's celebrate Cavallo, a footballer, who is proud to be gay.

That's why it's news.

Dan Lake is Newshubs travel editor and also reports on issues within the LGBTQI+ community