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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
David Craven

Keegan Hirst shows Pride in making his point now he's back in rugby league

There's not been a “Spartacus moment” since he came out as gay but Keegan Hirst believes rugby league has made giant strides.

The ex-Wakefield prop, 34, is gearing up to kick-off the Betfred Championship season with Batley at London Broncos on Sunday. Hirst, the first British rugby league player to openly come out as gay in 2015, kept a promise to reverse his retirement decision “to help with vision and inclusivity.” That came when seven Manly Sea Eagles players refused to wear a jersey emblazoned with a LGBTQ pride-themed rainbow during an NRL match last July.

Hirst, who initially packed in the sport in 2020, rejoined Batley last term but couldn’t play due to an RFL registration issue. He got back in action in their pre-season friendlies, though, and - Manly controversy aside - feels the sport is generally now far more inclusive compared to when he started out. Still, is Hirst surprised no other rugby league player has come out in the eight years since he went public?

He replied: “I don’t know. If there aren't any more gay players then they can’t come out... Yes, percentage-wise you’d think there might be. But there’s loads of reasons why that might not be the case: gay kids aren’t particularly welcomed in sport - or they weren’t when I was growing up, certainly effeminate kids. But I don’t doubt whatsoever that in the next generation of players we will see a few gay players amongst them.

“When I did, we were maybe hoping for a Spartacus moment where everyone stood up and said it but I think we got our hopes up. How good would it be, though, for a player to be able to come out in the academy and just go through their career with it just being a normal part of their life and not get any of the unwanted attention that sometimes happens.

“I wouldn’t have felt comfortable coming out in the academy and I do think that would have impacted my chances. But I honestly don’t think that’s the case now so that would be a testament of how far the sport and society has come.”

Keegan Hirst playing for Wakefield Trinity against Leeds Rhinos in 2019, a year before he retired (Allan McKenzie/SWpix)

Earlier this week, former New Zealand prop Campbell Johnstone, 43, became the first All Black player to come out as gay, something it is hoped will break down more barriers. Hirst is relishing being back playing again after conceding he thought his career was over for good. He said: "I’d fallen out of love with the game and was kind of done with it.

“But after a couple of years away, I was still active and I thought I’ve still got a few games in me. And then with everything that went on (at Manly) last season I thought I probably had a bit of a responsibility to come back. It just highlights that representation is important, in any walk of life.

“And how good is it that in the Championship we now have a gay player on the field and gay owners (Ryan O’Neill and husband Kaue Garcia) at Keighley Cougars. That representation does matter. It sets examples across sport.”

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