Max Gawn is not happy with the state of the AFL game with three homophobic slurs in the last month. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS
  • Australian rules football

Gawn ’embarrassed’ to be an AFL player amid homophobia

Anna Harrington May 10, 2024

Melbourne captain Max Gawn is embarrassed to be an AFL player amid three reported incidents of homophobia in the league this year.

Gold Coast defender Wil Powell was suspended for five games on Thursday for directing a homophobic slur towards a Brisbane opponent.

Powell’s ban comes less than a month after Port Adelaide’s Jeremy Finlayson was suspended for three games for his homophobic verbal abuse of an Essendon player.

North Melbourne coach Alastair Clarkson was fined $20,000 and received a suspended two-game ban for his pre-season tirade towards St Kilda duo Jimmy Webster and Dougal Howard.

“I’m not too fussed about the punishment and who’s got what. I’m just pretty embarrassed about the AFL cohort just slipping up time and time again,” Gawn told Triple M Melbourne. 

“This is three (incidents) in a year.

“It’s embarrassing to call yourself an AFL player at the moment. You’re sort of getting slapped with this brand. 

“I know our group, we talk about this. So hopefully, we’ve learnt the lesson and we can go forward.”

Gawn wouldn’t buy the excuse that players let such slurs slip out in the heat of games.

“That’s what we’ve got to get away from,” he said. 

“I think all three of these people and anyone who’s done it in the past would have run with that excuse straight up – that it was the heat of battle – but that’s just not an excuse.”

Powell’s ban was longer than Finlayson’s due to the proximity of the two incidents and the AFL wanting to deter such conduct.

Gawn indicated it made sense for punishments to escalate.

The AFL said Powell’s slur “demeans and denigrates any person regardless of their sexuality”.

Powell said he “instantly regretted” his comment and vowed to better educate himself.

Lions coach Chris Fagan wouldn’t be drawn on whether the club was happy with Powell’s punishment.

“I think that’s for the AFL to talk about,” he told reporters on Friday.

“I don’t want to buy into any conversation about penalties that are handed out to players from other clubs other than to say it’s a pretty clear direction from the AFL, which I agree with, that you can’t make those sort of comments out on the field.”

When asked whether the Brisbane player involved was okay, Fagan said: “Yeah, he’s fine.”

Collingwood counterpart Craig McRae stressed the importance of education and accountability in terms of players’ language and attitudes to social issues.

“It’s all learning,” he said. 

“And sometimes learning is the hard way – make mistakes, get better for it.

“We’re in a position where we’ll continue to not get everything right and then hopefully make good decisions from those things.

“Education’s one thing and then accountability, role modelling.”

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