A skit on Channel Nine's NRL Footy Show, which poked fun at Matthew Johns' gay fictitious brother 'Elton Johns' could lead young homosexuals to suicide, an equal rights spokesman claims.
In another controversy for Matthew (who was recently dismissed from the programme after being the subject of allegations about a group sex scandal which is said to have taken place in New Zealand in 2002), the Footy Show is facing possible legal action over a skit aired on May 7. It featured the former National Rugby League player and Footy Show presenter dressed up like Elton.
The episode also featured Matthew's brother, Andrew Johns, who said he was "so ashamed" of their gay sibling.
The skit shows 'Elton Johns' being taken to hospital because he is gay.
SX magazine reports gay activist Gary Burns has lodged a complaint about the skit with the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board.
Former NRL player Ian Roberts, who publicly declared his homosexuality in 1995, has backed the complaint.
Australian Coalition for Equality spokesman Rodney Croome says the broadcast is harmful particularly for young, isolated gay people.
"I'd agree with Ian Roberts, who said that while some people might brush off a skit like this as tasteless, the fact is - particularly for young and isolated gay people, particularly those in rural areas - this kind of offensive material can have a very serious impact," he declared.
"There's a reason that young gay people are more likely to kill themselves and that is because they feel isolated, they feel alone and this kind of material can make matters worse.
"Particularly young people in rural areas where football is almost a kind of a religion and senior footballers and commentators have almost demi-god status.
"It's already hard enough for young gay people to fit into those communities and feel like they belong and to have these role models making fun of them effectively makes things so much worse."
Croome says the NRL and Footy Show do not understand that they are supposed to be role models.
"I think it shows first and foremost that they just don't get it. They don't get first of all that they have a social responsibility because they are role models and that responsibility is to model good, humane values like tolerance and respect," he said.
"When I see this kind of material it doesn't strike me as comedy, it strikes me as bullying."
Croome also says it is a shame that legal action is needed to deal with such matters.
"But if that's what's going to make them sit up and realise that their words hurt and can even kill then sadly that's what's necessary," he said.
Channel Nine did not wish to comment on the complaint against the programme.