Ian Roberts, Australia’s first professional rugby league player to come out as gay, has in an emotional interview with The Daily Telegraph laid bare the consequences of his historic decision made in 1995.
It has been revealed, shortly after Robert’s announcement, the former Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Cowboys front-rower found himself the victim of a violent assault. He was dragged, kicked and abused while unconscious on the concrete while walking along the Sydney Harbour foreshore. “That moment changed me,” Roberts now recalls.
Reflecting on the same period of time in 1995, Roberts graphically recalls when he was assaulted by a spectator who punched Roberts in the face – calling him a “faggot” – as Sea Eagles players left the field at halftime during a match between Manly and St George at an oval in Kogarah in Southern Sydney.
Faced Homophobic Abuse
“When someone viciously calls you a ‘fucking faggot’, that cuts to the bone because that’s meant to dehumanise you. It would do my head in when people were abusive on the street.”
Not limited to abuse from members of the public, a fellow teammate was once overheard saying of Roberts “I feel uncomfortable rooming with Ian because he’s a faggot.”
Despite Roberts wishing to come out earlier than he did, he realised it wasn’t his time after witnessing what happened when Justin Fashanu an English footballer who played for a variety of clubs between 1978 and 1997 came out in 1990 only to take his own life in 1998.
“It was such an ugly story. I felt my family didn’t need it, my mum and dad didn’t need that. That’s what I worried about; I was never really worried about my situation because I was always comfortable being gay.”
Coming Out In The 1990s
So when Roberts eventually found the courage to come out in 1995, he says it “was the worst kept secret in ruby league. Even when I was at Souths, everyone knew I was gay.”
“I have been ‘out’ privately since I was 19 or 20. I was always comfortable growing up being gay.
“I wish I’d come out earlier when I was at Souths. I always felt like I was protecting my family, but you can’t protect people from being who you are.”
“I used to feel for my mum and dad at games because people would scream shit out – I was worried they had to hear that but there are certain things you can’t protect your family from. I was never ashamed of saying I was same-sex attracted but if I came out in the late 1980s, they would have had to endure it more.”
More recently, and in further evidence the world of Rugby could finally be making long needed cultural changes, Australian Rugby League commission chair Peter V’landys has slammed the Australian Christian Lobby’s attempts to get the disgraced Israel Folau back on the playing field, following a number of homophobic outbursts well documented by Australian Media.
Roberts who has been with his partner Daniel for 15 years concluded his interview giving advice for young players saying the most important thing was to ‘make sure you feel comfortable’.
If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.
For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14
For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.