Ben Cohen | Gareth Thomas | Interview | Rugby | Sports

Towleroad Interview: Ben Cohen

UK Rugby player Ben Cohen has been a very vocal straight ally to the gay community for years. In 2009, he openly stated that Rugby was ready for an openly gay player just months before Gareth Thomas' momentous coming out and earlier this year shot an anti-bullying video alongside Bravo's Andy Cohen. I spoke to him as he prepares to visit the United States in May for his Ben Cohen Acceptance Tour.

SP: You've recorded a couple of anti-bullying videos with words of support toward suicidal or bullied young people. What would you say to those who are doing the bullying?

BC: I say simply stop and think. What is that person were to finish their life because of you. How would that feel? Also, bullies often have issues of their own – why else would they do it. Maybe they need to face their issues.

SP: Have you yourself ever been the victim of a  bully?

BC: Not in the true sense of the word but I have been the victim of the media at times – goes with the territory, but it is still not nice. You have to say to yourself "Don’t take it personally" but thats not easy –especially when the claims made about you are unjust. It’s frustrating.

SP: You're touring the USA this summer with your "Acceptance Tour 2011" to combat homophobia. What sparked the idea for the tour?

BC: For some years now we have been receiving messages and emails from people all over the world with some heart wrenching stories. I really felt that I wanted to do something about it and I felt that I could. The video I made sparked off all sorts of things really, as well as emotions in me as a sports figure and as a Dad, so we started thinking about what we could do. Then we received an invitation to go to a sports bar in New York. And then a proposal from a Gay/Gay Friendly rugby club in Atlanta at the same time. We work with Geoff in Florida who just came on the team to help Jill with the Calendar, but then became involved representing my work in the USA and he has been linking up ever since pulling everything together. Exciting times!

Read the rest of the interview, AFTER THE JUMP.

SP: What's the biggest difference between your USA fans and your UK fans?

BC: Apart from the fact that they generally have different accents, there are no real differences. The large majority are just nice people getting on with their lives the best way they can. I have met some great people over the past few years and I am very humbled at their response to me.

SP: How does your wife feel about all of the attention you get from your gay fans?

BC: She is absolutely fine with it. We have really good friends who are gay and they’re always round for lunch as one of them, Rob, has a horse at our stables. To be honest, she doesn’t tend to get too involved with what I do. She looks after our twins and is always busy with all the animals we have and that is her priority. When I get home I’m just husband and dad so it’s very levelling. She’s interested of course but she is cool with it – totally.

SP: You're clinically deaf. How does that effect your playing on the field?

BC: I am 30% deaf in each ear which tends to mean I can’t hear people. So that can be a challenge on the pitch but I have a keen eye and make up for it there. I do get teased quite a bit about it. It does worry me a bit though because sometimes people think I am being rude and that I am ignoring them, but in fact I haven’t heard them. I have got hearing aids but I don’t wear them. I also get tinnitus. I remember we went to the Scissor Sisters concert recently and then met the band afterwards. My ears were ringing like church bells after all the loud music so that challenged my lip reading techniques.

Ben SP: You've said in the past that you're not that pleased with your body. What would you change about it?

BC: No, I’m lucky to have a fit, healthy body. It does a good job for me so I wouldn’t change it really. The thing is, if I wanted a ripped 6 pack, I could get one – I know how to do it, but fit and healthy is more important to me. My spare time is spent with the family rather than down the gym.

SP: How have other rugby players reacted to Gareth Thomas' coming out?

BC: It really wasn’t an issue at all. We just carried on treating him the same as ever. He’s a real character and was still the same guy we had been playing rugby with for years, so, no change.

SP: After coming out, Thomas was pelted with homophobic slurs from some fans. Do you think the attitude of fans is changing for the better?

BC: I wasn’t aware of that at all and that surprises me really if that is the case. It really doesn’t sound like rugby at all so it must have been an isolated incident. I think there is far more awareness these days surrounding equality generally so I think the average person would think twice about saying anything disrespectful. You are always going to get the exception to the rule though, but all I can say is that is rugby, it’s all about the sport as opposed to the sexuality of the players.

SP: You're no longer with the Sale Sharks team. What will you do now? Will you continue to play rugby or take this time to do something else?

BC: I’m with Sale until the end of the season in May and then – who knows. I would like to continue to play rugby if the right offer comes along.  It’s a waiting game at the moment so time will tell. I’ll make up my mind when I know what’s available. I have a variety of options so I’m not going to rush into it at the moment.

SP: Would you ever take up acting?

BC: I’d love to do acting – not sure how good I would be at it though. I would certainly give it a go. There have been some offers and there may be a few things in the pipeline but again, we will have to see. I know, I’m being cagey!

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  1. All-around goodness hunkified. People should take lessons from this guy.

    Posted by: Jeff in Brooklyn | Mar 20, 2011 10:08:57 AM

  2. Such a sweetheart.

    Posted by: daws | Mar 20, 2011 10:18:39 AM

  3. Such a beautiful man -- inside and out.

    Posted by: matt | Mar 20, 2011 10:27:32 AM

  4. And the universe created a perfect cub to encourage the gay world. I adore Ben Cohen.

    Posted by: Troy | Mar 20, 2011 10:40:24 AM

  5. Swoon! All around great guy. Let's hope American football can be close behind. Look forward to hearing about the tour. I was out of town for his appearance at Boxers here in NYC.

    Posted by: Scott | Mar 20, 2011 10:50:32 AM

  6. dreamy. inside and out. longtime fan.

    Posted by: Brad | Mar 20, 2011 11:34:57 AM

  7. Thanks for this interview, Andy, although I think most readers would have preferred a video format!

    I hope you will be giving us more details about Ben's acceptance tour dates and places.

    Posted by: A.G. | Mar 20, 2011 12:38:42 PM

  8. Ben will be visiting Atlanta, New York, Washington,DC and Seattle.

    It's too bad this isn't getting more publicity. GLSEN can use the money.

    As far as I can tell, the Atlanta Bucks are the only organization that seem to have their act together regarding this opportunity.

    Posted by: Darren | Mar 20, 2011 1:16:23 PM

  9. Andy, do you need an assistant on these kinds of interviews?

    Posted by: michael | Mar 20, 2011 1:36:31 PM

  10. It didn't realise it till I finished...but I read it with an Ehglish accent....What a cutie!

    Posted by: wonderer | Mar 20, 2011 2:53:57 PM

  11. such an inspiration and role model.

    Posted by: mike | Mar 20, 2011 5:36:53 PM

  12. Yes, got to love the straight allies...

    Posted by: Gabe R L | Mar 20, 2011 10:25:25 PM

  13. I'm one of Ben's mates, and have watched him play since he started with the Saints years ago, as my aunt and uncle are huge Northampton Saints fans.

    He is so kind and caring, and I am so proud to call him my friend. I went up to Sale from Oxford by train to see him for his opening game, and when he saw me I saw his smile at me. I brought him his birthday pressies (our birthdays are close to each other) and I hope personally that he comes back to Northampton Saints, as he and 'Uncle George' are my heroes and friends. I am so lucky.

    Posted by: Gary Brubaker | Mar 21, 2011 9:05:34 AM

  14. I've loved Ben for years, and had no idea he was partially hearing-impaired. Maybe that's a contributing factor towards why he sticks up for underdogs and outsiders, and seems extra-compassionate and empathetic. And there is nothing--not one blooming thing--wrong with his body. (Or his sweet, handsome mug.) I wonder if I should consider a drive to Seattle, if it's on a weekend...

    Posted by: Dback | Mar 21, 2011 2:00:28 PM

  15. I love this guy. Besides being incredibly sexy he has a warm and kind heart. We need more men like him in the world, and in the sports world.

    Posted by: Dan | Mar 21, 2011 6:38:18 PM

  16. If she is 'str8' then so are we!

    Posted by: Mrs Patrick Campbell | Nov 26, 2013 3:01:38 PM

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