Keegan Hirst is not sure if he is the only gay professional rugby league player but has comforting words for anybody contemplating whether to come out of the closet.
The Wakefield Trinity prop forward might have expected his brave move to prompt others to follow suit yet – four years on – he remains the only gay professional rugby league player, despite the positive reaction he has received.
“It’s such an individualised thing to do,” he told PA. “People might be out but not publicly. It’s a really difficult one.
“Maybe there aren’t any other gay professional rugby league players, I honestly don’t know.
“A person can only do it when they’re ready to do it.
“It would be easy for me to say ‘if you’re a gay rugby league player, come out’, but it doesn’t work like that.
“It’s something that an individual has to be comfortable with themselves, being able to tell the family and then, if they see fit, to share it with the wider public.
“Should someone decide to do it, there’s no better sport for them to do it in, I don’t think.
“It’s inclusive, it’s diverse, it’s all the things we want society to be and the fans and the clubs are all accepting of one person as they are the next.
“That’s something as a sport we should be really proud of and we should probably champion that more than we do.”
Hirst is one of the Super League players fronting a “Tackle the Tough Stuff” campaign, backed by State of Mind and RL Cares, that highlights the issues in men’s mental health following a study that reveals men are three times as likely to die from suicide as women and, on average, 84 men take their lives every week.
Jackson Hastings (Salford), Jarrod Sammut (Wigan) and Brad Dwyer (Leeds) are among the other players to share their personal stories, from struggling with sexuality and body image to dealing with depression and anxiety ahead of the Wellbeing round of matches to be staged on Thursday and Friday.
Hirst added: “I do a lot of talking around mental health so it’s something that I’m really passionate about.
Jarrod Sammut: "I do believe that everyone’s got a life worth living, even if they can’t see it themselves, so pick up the phone or have a conversation with somebody." #TackleTheToughStuffJuly 7, 2019
“I’m really pleased to be able to share my experiences of my own troubles.
“It’s a great initiative – they’ve really revamped it this year.
“I can talk first hand about my experience, prior to coming out and struggling with my sexuality, bottling things up, depression and things like that, which is a good place to be able to help other people from.
“It’s been a bit of a blessing in disguise I guess.”
Meanwhile, Hirst admits his future is up in the air as he nears the end of his contract with Wakefield.
“I’ve a couple of irons in the fire,” he said. “There’s not been an offer from Wakefield yet and I don’t know whether there will be.
“I’m just keeping my head down and trying to keep on playing. There’s a bit of rugby to be played yet.
“I really like it at Wakefield but we’ll have to see what happens.”
- Press Association