Rugby League player Keegan Hirst has come out as gay, the first British player in the sport to do so.
“At first I couldn’t even say ‘I’m gay’ in my head, let alone out loud. Now I feel like I’m letting out a long breath that I’ve held in for a long time,” Hirst, 27, told the Sunday Mirror.
Though he started being attracted to men at around age 15, he admits it was hard to accept his sexuality given his background. “I had a wife and kids. I’ve been a builder, doorman, worked in factories – I play rugby. I tick every macho box. How could I be gay?”
A prop for the Batley Bulldogs, Hirst is currently separating from his wife. He told the Mirror one of the reasons he came out was because she blamed herself for the end of their marriage.
The response to his news has been overwhelmingly positive—something Hirst honestly didn’t expect.
“I thought I’d be disowned by friends and family but I haven’t been,” he said. “The support from my teammates and other rugby league players has really surprised me, it’s all been positive.”
In 1995, Australian Rugby League player Ian Roberts became the first professional rugby player to come out. He was followed by Welsh Rugby Union star Gareth Thomas in 2009.