“The World’s Bravest Athlete” Has Supportive Teammates

A story about Gareth Thomas, the Wales rugby fullback for the Cardiff Blues who announced he was gay at the end of last year while still an active player in the sport, is featured in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. A headline on the cover of the magazine aptly describes the rugby player as "The World's Bravest Athlete."


Gareth

The piece recounts the moment Thomas, whose nickname is "Alf," revealed his sexual orientation to coach Scott Johnson and his teammates in 2006. The conversation began with Johnson asking Thomas the big question point blank:

"Does it have something to do with your sexuality, mate?"

Tears filled Alf's eyes. "You knew all the time," he said.

"So … you're still Alf, right? We love
you. This doesn't change anything about you as a person or how the boys
feel about you…. But you'll need support, mate. You can't hold this
alone. I'm going to speak to a few of the boys. They need to know."

Alf
shuddered, hung his head and nodded, then went to a bar in the team
hotel and waited in terror for two hours. Johnno checked into a room
there, invited in two of the most senior and respected members of the
team, Martyn Williams and Stephen Jones, opened a bottle of red and
poured out the truth.

The two players finally entered the
bar. Williams put a hand on Alf's back. "Hey, mate," he said, "no big
deal. We don't care. Cheers for getting it out. Why didn't you tell us
before?"

Kudos to his team for being so supportive. Wouldn't be just great if a similar scene played out with a professional sports athlete in the United States? And soon?

Comments

  1. ravewulf says

    “Wouldn’t be just great if a similar scene played out with a professional sports athlete in the United States?”

    “Would that everyone would receive that level of support.”

    I’ve been dreaming of that day for a long time now (and reading novels/short stories set at a point where it’s already happened/happening). I know it will happen, and easily within my lifetime, but that doesn’t make the waiting any easier.

  2. johnny says

    These scenarios seem to all have the same elements in various combinations.

    A given amount of fame, a high level of expertise in a given field or sport, the fact that one’s sexuality is guessed but not spoken about and the fact that the person in question is not overt about their sexuality.

    IMO, you take away any of the above elements and the outcome is extremely different.

  3. Den says

    Isn’t it still sad though in this day and age that what ought to be a mundane revelation (being gay) can still be considered such a daring and controversial thing to do that it can be reported with the heading “bravest athlete in the world”

  4. bozemanmontana says

    wow…I forgot how much I love SI when they tell a story about an athlete, a true story, a story that hasn’t been told before.
    Just wish an American athlete would come out. Too bad they don’t have the balls to do it.

  5. Nick says

    It won’t happen in America for a very long time especially in some sports where Fundamentalist Christianity is shoved down the throats of athletes
    -especially pro-football where some of the most respected coaches and players prosthletyze non-stop
    -espousing their narrow-minded interpretation of the bible- and that scenario doesn’t include tolerance for gays or women for that matter.
    Our deep seated puritannical roots keep us up to our ankles in cement in attempting to make any progress.

  6. princely54 says

    It seems to me that America, for all its (our) bravado and ‘badassery’ (yeah, not a word) is a country steeped in fear of ‘fill in the blank’. Our politics, entertainment, economic system is comprised of being afraid of something/someone/some idea.

    I can’t imagine this playing out in every part of our society anytime soon(it isn’t even in the UK). But I think its time we start to peel back the mask of fear that we have been taught to have in the US. Its time to not let ourselves and those we love continue to buy the rhetoric that says “this is dangerous” when it CLEARLY isn’t.

    A Christian friend of mine, who isn’t of the bigoted wing, but knows many who are, asked me how do we deal with those around us who are so convinced that the ‘other’ is coming to destroy our way of life. All I could say was try to engage them in a REAL conversation; no yelling, no platitudes, no talking points. Just talk as logically and straightforward as possible; don’t expect to have changed a mind, but hope that you have planted a seed of new thought in them. Its hard to do, but its necessary.

  7. Smartypants says

    “Ghetto trash”, Telly? Really? It’s disappointing to realize that while society at large is making steady progress against homophobia, racism continues to survive in the gay community.

    Your comment is demeaning to athletes like Roy Simmons (African-American, U.S. football), Glenn Burke (African-American, Baseball), Greg Louganis (Samoan, Olympic diver), Rudy Galindo (Latino, Olympic figure skater), John Amaechi (African-American, basketball), Chris Dickerson (African-American, Mr. Universe, bodybuilder), Esera Tuaolo (Samoan, U.S. football).

    It seems to me that more men of color (whom you appear to glibly refer to as ‘ghetto trash’) have come out than white guy athletes. Who’s braver? Who’s taking a greater risk?

  8. TANK says

    But while they were playing, smartypants? Noooooooooo. That’s a very big difference. Was greg louganis out to the world when he won his olympic medals in ’84?

    But, this guy didn’t come out until he was playing for the cardiff blues, and that’s a pretty big difference, too.

    Honestly, the race card?

  9. Smartypants says

    Well yes, Tank, I did bring up race in response to the post about “ghetto trash” on U.S. sports teams. It seemed appropriate to question the underlying sentiment in the comment, which seems pretty racist to me.

    As far as active players coming out, the SI article identifies Gareth Thomas as the FIRST active player to come out. Since he is the first, the only related comparison is athletes who have come out after retiring. My point is that a large number, if not a majority, of professional athletes (active or retired) who have come out are men of color.

    Telly’s comment assumes that men of color or ones from families with lower incomes are less likely to come out — I was just calling bullshit based on the best available information. If you think challenging racism in the gay community is “playing the race card”, then bullshit on that too.

  10. TANK says

    And while I’m not disputing that a large number of them are men of color, coming out after you’re relevant as an athlete doesn’t have the same impact or significance of coming out when you are. And mitcham’s a great example…a better example than thomas, actually. But it’s swimming, and well…there are sports and then there are real sports. Like figure skating vs. baseball.

  11. Rachel says

    I found it a really hard article to read; I think Gary Smith did a masterful job of conveying the claustrophobia and psychological/spiritual ruination of the closet. The bit where Gareth’s mom toasted his public coming out and the beginning of the rest of his life was moving. I’m glad SI ran the story; it’s a good start.

  12. Smartypants says

    I agree with you that an active athlete will have a greater social impact than a retired one. Likewise a player on a team sport realistically is facing a greater challenge than an individual competitor like Matthew Mitcham or Martina Navratilova whose success depends primarily on individual skill and effort.

    Similarly, as you point out, there is some kind of social hierarchy in the sporting world based on how physically brutal the game and whether or not it’s a team sport. Roughly speaking the spectrum would run from rugby and American football at one extreme to figure skating and gymnastics at the opposite end. There’s probably some overlap between the rougher individual sports like boxing and the wimpier team sports. Cricket for example or synchronized swimming.

    That’s why the recent comings out of both Gareth Thomas and Irish hurler Daniel Og Cusack have garnered such attention. Both are still active and are known for being among the toughest superstars in physically brutal sports — the manliest of men. At the same time they are shielded from some negative response simply because they are the very best. Someday I expect to see a mediocre football or baseball player come out and continue playing, but it’s likely to be a while.

  13. Paul R says

    @Johnny: Yep, except in the US military, where the results are totally arbitrary.

    @Princely54: Very true. I’ve done it a zillion times. Usually with people who are indoctrinated from a very young age I talk with them for a while, then ask the basic question, Why would anyone choose to seem gay? or Do I seem like a bad person to you? Simplistic, yes, but a lot of narrow-minded people were raised in simple environments.

    @Smartypants: Actually, even “girly” efforts like gymnastics or ballet can take an enormous toll on people’s bodies. For a friend of mine it took 2.5 years for his toes to straighten out after he gave up ballet, and he has constant neck, back, and nerve problems. And he’s 26.

    Anyway, good on SI for doing this story.

  14. Smartypants says

    Paul R — I completely agree about the physical toll of ‘girly’ sports. I did gymnastics as a kid and it was far more physically challenging than any of the other sports I tried. There are plenty of football players who have taken ballet to improve their performance and many have said ballet is harder than football.

    The issue is that in the broader culture there is clearly some kind of macho sports hierarchy. Your own comment about ‘girly’ sports supports the idea. I’m not saying I agree, that it’s right, or that sports like gymnastics or figure skating don’t demand just as much skill and dedication — it’s just that those athletes don’t usually receive the same level of recognition for their achievements as men in the ‘higher’ ranking team sports.

  15. TANK says

    That’s because he sucks at sports, paul. Gymnastics? Parents who send their kids to gymnastics mine as well come to terms with the fact that they’re raising queers…at least that’s what someone who suffers from the macho paradigm of sports culture would say (not me…but them).

  16. chris says

    ……yes I wish Derek Jeter would just come out of the closet and profess his red hot mad love fro Dustin Pedroia and we can all move on.

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