YARRA GLEN footballer Jason Ball is just like any other local player.
The rugged centre half-back crashes packs and runs to exhaustion, alongside his 21 teammates. They take to the field during the Saturday afternoons of winter, giving up weeknights to training.
But the 25-year-old has taken a stand that distinguishes him from almost every other footballer, locally and nationally: he is gay and isn't afraid to say so.
But he wasn't always so forthcoming. Ball described telling his teammates at the club he has played at since he was five as one of the hardest decisions he had had to make.
"From the perspective of someone who's gay, it's not easy to stand up, especially within the footy environment," he said.
The IT worker led Victoria's Pride March on Sunday, which celebrated the state's homosexual population. The event attracted thousands of people who walked down Fitzroy Street, St Kilda. Leading the march were Ball and his Yarra Glen teammates, who proudly marched by his side.
"To have their support is great and a sign that things are changing."
He said their support made his decision to "come out of the closet" last year easier.
"Homophobic language faded from their vocabulary when they found out I was gay. That meant a lot."
He said the AFL should be doing more to help homosexual players feel more comfortable in revealing their sexuality.
"[Carlton Football Club player] Brock McLean put it well the other day when he said the AFL is currently dipping their toes on the issue when they should be putting their whole body in.
"They need to be proactive rather than reactive. Instead of just coming down hard on players who use homophobic language, they need to set programs that address the root of the issue."
Ball said he knew he was gay when he was 12. He tried to fight it but finally accepted himself when he was about 15.
Ben Strong, one of Ball's teammates who helped lead the march on Sunday, said while he never expected to be taking part in a gay pride march, he was proud of what his mate was doing.
"It's amazing what Jason's doing, and great for exposure of the cause."
He agreed with Ball's claim that coming out in the football club environment was perhaps the toughest place of all.
"Culturally, it's certainly harder to come out in the footy club than, say, the workplace."
Sexual orientation aside, Ball said he and his Yarra Glen teammates were "keen for retribution" this year after losing the grand final to Healesville last year.