Keegan Hirst cheered by crowds at first match since coming out
The rugby player has expressed his thanks for the overwhelming support he has received since coming out over the weekend.
Keegan Hirst, 27, became one of the first players in his sport to open up about his sexuality – and his battle with the “macho” image of Rugby League – in a revealing interview with the the Sunday Mirror.
And as he took to the pitch for the first time since coming out yesterday (August 16), he became the first British Rugby League player to do so as an out gay man – with an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the crowd and fellow players alike.
“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.”
The married father of two continued to garner support yesterday after the news broke, with his fellow players rushing to congratulate and Welsh international player Gareth Thomas – who came out himself back in 2009 – tweeting that he had offered him his support “days ago”.
The Batley Bulldogs prop is the first British player to come out as gay while playing the sport, although he is second openly gay Rugby League star in the UK.
He was also sent messages of support from fellow players including Alex Rowe and James Green.
Speaking to the Sunday Mirror over the weekend, the sports star said: “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.
“I tick every macho box. How could I be gay? I’m from Batley for goodness sake. No one is gay in Batley,” he said of his struggle.
“The only time I felt free of the torment was when I stepped on the rugby pitch. Now I feel free.”
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However, his revelation has not been without pain – after he told his wife about his sexuality “a few weeks ago”, the pair are now separated.
“She blamed herself when we separated but I knew she’d done nothing wrong,” he explained
“I couldn’t bear it any more, the guilt of it all, of her not knowing why I left. It was eating me up.”
“We haven’t told the kids yet, they’re too young to understand. I’m not sure how I’d explain it.”
The player also revealed he considered taking his own life, saying: “On the worst days I’d think, ‘I can’t do this, I’d rather be dead than for it all to come out’.”
Gareth Thomas was one of the first players to came out six years ago while playing Rugby Union, before he moved to Rugby League in 2010.
Australian Rugby League player Ian Roberts came out twenty years ago in 1995.