In May 2019, Andy Brennan became the first openly gay male professional footballer in Australia. Brennan was a guest on The World Game LIVE this week where he spoke openly and honestly about his experiences. Lucy Zelic explains why his courage is so important for our sport.
You could be forgiven for thinking that a good news story in Australian football was harder to come by these days than a lottery win.
Between the overall disenchantment with the professional game and the deepening concerns over the future of our sport, there has been little to be inspired by.
Enter Hume City’s Andy Brennan.
This week, we had the pleasure of welcoming the former Newcastle Jets striker to SBS on The World Game LIVE show where we discussed his historic move to come out as a gay man last May.
As a result, he became the first male professional footballer in Australia to do so and one of the very few in the world to share their stories publicly.
For the select few that have like American Robbie Rogers and former German international and Aston Villa midfielder, Thomas Hitzlsperger - their revelations were both uplifting and tainted with sorrow.
Former Leeds striker Rogers admitted that after coming out as gay, he “had to leave football”.
"Football is an amazing sport but it is also a brutal sport that picks people up and slams them on their heads. Adding the gay aspect doesn't make a great cocktail,” Rogers told the Guardian in 2013.
For Hitzlsperger, after coming out in 2014, he admitted that he considered telling the truth in 2012 while he was still playing for Wolfsburg but was advised against it.
"They all said 'don't do it, a big wave will crash on you’ but in the end I realised that nobody knows. There was no precedent, so everybody could only speculate on what would happen," Hitzlsperger said in 2014.
Whilst all of their journeys differ, the one commonality they all share when they reflect on their paths is that they were laden with fear.
For Andy, he was fraught with worry that he might never be able to play the game he loved again.
He was terrified that his friends, family and teammates would reject him, that their mannerisms would be different around him and as he aptly put, he didn’t “want to be in an environment like that.”
But the responses from the Australian football fraternity and beyond were overwhelmingly positive which was a breath of fresh air in a world filled with such judgment and hatred.
Soon after, his worry morphed into relief and as he sat before us; kind natured and well-spoken, I couldn’t help but think how fortunate we were to profit from this man’s bravery and courage.
Football is a sport that has managed to encapsulate the very essence of who we are and translate those narratives into an inspirational language that is universally understood but it also harbours a deep and sinister underbelly.
For decades, racism, bigotry and homophobia have been embedded within the game and passed down from generation to generation.
The key to breaking that cycle is improving our knowledge and making a collective stand to bring an end to such behaviour.
This includes all the key stakeholders from the players, to the fans, member federations, broadcasters, journalists and the governing body.
As it stands, Andy is working behind the scenes with Professional Footballers Australia to broaden education around homophobia across the league.
It’s a hugely important discussion and as one of the major codes in this country, we are in a unique position whereby we should be looking to build on this young man’s valour and be leaders in this space.
As a starting point, Andy believes that talking openly about these issues and sharing both positive and hurtful stories is a step in the right direction.
For many, the long and tumultuous road to coming out to family and friends is filled with enough trepidation, least of all baring your heart and soul to a potentially unforgiving public.
To those that may be battling through a similar burden, Andy’s message is also clear.
“Once you start vocalising it to someone, it helps you so much. I think that there’s a lot of power in communicating and talking to people,” Brennan said.
Sometimes we are driven by our obsession with the figures on the pitch so much that we have forgotten that they exist off it too.
The irony is, is that who they are away from football contributes to so much of who we see before us and everyone, whether they are men or women, should have the right to be themselves.
So from the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you Andy - for having the courage to be you.