When rugby league player Keegan Hirst made the brave decision to come out as gay last August, it was always going to have a huge effect on his life.
Coming out of as gay is a challenge faced by millions of young people across the country but for sportsmen like Keegan Hirst, it’s almost impossible to actually do it.
Ever since Premier League footballer Justin Fashanu came out as gay and was consequently forced to hear his family call him an “outcast” in the press as his football career stalled, sports stars have largely decided to stay in the closet. Or at least wait until after their careers have finished to announce their sexuality to the world.
A very notable case of this is former Leeds United winger Robbie Rogers, who made the decision to come out as gay in 2013 and simultaneously retired from the sport on the same day. He claimed that it was “obviously impossible” to come out as gay in the beautiful game due how he’d be treated by fellow professionals and fans.
While Rogers eventually decided to return to football, with LA Galaxy back in the United States, many current sportsmen wondered how the general public, their fans and their teammates would respond to them coming out.
The stigma behind it has led to many refusing to come out, especially in the sports that are considered more masculine, such as rugby, boxing and football. This made Keegan Hirst’s decision all the more brave as the married father of two came out as gay in an interview with the Sunday Mirror, becoming the becoming the first British professional rugby league player to do so.
Keegan Hirst recently spoke to ITV about the challenges he faced when coming out as gay.
“I had a lot of things going on in my head. Was I gay, wasn’t I gay? Was it a phase? There were one or two occasions when I did think about taking my own life. I even got as far as thinking about how I’d do it, where I’d do it.
But then you started to think about who’d find you, what effect would it have on your family and friends and things like that. That always kind of brought me back. I got my head round it.
Most of my friends and family took it well. My mum struggled with it for a while. I suppose I’ve had 27 years to get my head around it so obviously I’m okay with it but when you tell someone and they’re not expecting it you’re kind of dumping it on their feet. I suppose they have to come out with you.”
Hopefully Keegan’s admirable battles will inspire other young sportsmen to come out as gay and more importantly, hopefully his battles will inspire sport, and society, to be more accepting and understanding to athletes like Keegan Hirst.