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Gareth Thomas is gay - so what?

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John Beattie | 17:29 UK time, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Well done, Gareth Thomas.

In the seventies a posh meal was prawn cocktail, steak and chips with a chopped tomato, Black Forest gateau, and Matheus Rose wine.

In Scotland, pubs shut at ten, and drinking and driving was something people tried to get away with.

gareth_thomas_poster.jpg
Back then there were miners' strikes, glam rock was in its pomp, and all I wanted for Christmas was a Raleigh Chopper bike.

And back then homosexuality was misunderstood by most of the population, believing that some men and women had made the wrong choice, that it was a threat to the rest of us. Or had to be hidden away.

Nowadays the beauty of the world lies in its diversity.

The British population is changing in its make-up of races - a wonderful thing as we are all immigrants anyway - and our choice of food and wine is spectacular.

And our attitudes to homosexuality have changed too.

According to that font of all knowledge, Wikipedia, rates of homosexuality in the population are somewhere between two and 13 percent.

So, tell me now, who was shocked that there were homosexuals involved in rugby? Come on, hand on heart, who was shocked?

And does it matter?

I assume, and maybe I am wrong, that rugby's population is representative of the UK's wider population, although, and again I know I am getting into tricky ground, but bear with me - I also understand that some homosexual men might be put off by the backlash they may perceive coming their way from some of the blokes in a macho sport.

And there will be some nutters who would not want homosexuals in their sport.

But I coach rugby, and have done for years since I stopped playing, and I can't think of one person I played with who would be blatantly homophobic - and I hope that the game would welcome everyone who is at peace with it.

The reaction at my club on hearing the news was "so?".

Years ago, as Gareth says, the corporate world might have reeled from backing homosexual sportsmen, but I doubt it would come into the equation now.

The slightly strange thing for me in all of this is that we do have teams who celebrate the fact that they are "gay" rugby teams when the sign of a fully accepting and integrated sport is that players would play in rugby teams only defined by their ability.

I fully understand people who want to play only with people who are like them in their chosen theme, but I would want rugby players to mix, and mix completely if they could.

But to get back to Gareth Thomas, I want to thank him for perhaps changing rugby's image.

Whether we like it or not, much of the world views rugby as a boorish, macho, song-singing, blinkered, posh man's game. Which it is not.

Perhaps Gareth's greatest achievement is in nudging rugby to become a more inclusive, modern, tolerant, and compassionate game for everyone.

Which is what it should be.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    At first glance I read: "Garth Thomas is so gay - what?" :-)

    Anyway, nice affirmative article John and the BBC; it was only a year or two ago that some of the Scottish football columns on the BBC were still mocking of homosexuality and using derogatory (but they had decided "acceptable") terms like "jessie."

    Thank you.

  • Comment number 2.

    Thanks, I believe it

    JB

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm not annoyed by it, just surprised. But it just shows that he felt the need to be so public because there was a message he needed to make public.

    It's always about perception and assumption, but an interesting point is that when he told some of his high profile mates their reaction was the same as most folk.

    You know I think there is a huge element of understanding within the public too now.

    One strange thing for me was the public perception that rugby as a sport might have a problem because rugby is "macho" and would not tolerate such things.

  • Comment number 5.

    May the need to do this publicly have been influenced by other media organisations threatening to disclose? That's what the rumour mill is saying. In which case it still points to an underlying issue in that sexuality can be used to threaten / blackmail people.

    FWIW I think Gareth is an awesome player and a good guy. Who can forget his truly mental interview on was it Scrum V (with apparent brain injury)? Top stuff. He played the game as I like to see it played, 100% all the time.

    As a previous poster said. Sport isn't the prblem. The public and the media are. I wonder exactly how many of Gareth's teammates have an issue with him? I'd guess less than none of them.

  • Comment number 6.

    More or less backed up what I've said John - so what indeed. No doubt I'll see you at the Glasgow v Edinburgh match:-

    http://blogs.theglaswegian.co.uk/talkingrugby/2009/12/times-have-changed-move-with-them-please.html

  • Comment number 7.

    Is it just me or did people not know he was gay years ago? I, like hundreds if not thousands of other people, have known for years that he was gay!

    Nobody cared when it became public knowledge the first time so why should it matter now?

    Has he a book "coming out" shortly and wants the advertising?

  • Comment number 8.

    I vaguely remember rumours about him, but as John says - so what. Reminds me of the gay team we have played in recent years from Edinburgh - Caledonian Thebans. Big respect to them and our boys who just play rugby, drink and have fun in the rugby spirit.

  • Comment number 9.

    John, a very thoughtful and compassionate piece. We need more people like you, expressing your balanced, open-minded views in the media....and all walks of life.

  • Comment number 10.

    Indeed who cares I can't even see why it matters and is getting so much coverage. Even rugby players can be Gay.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi John - "...The British population is changing in its make-up of races - a wonderful thing as we are all immigrants anyway - and our choice of food and wine is spectacular..." Just got to say this is one of the GREATEST lines I have ever read in any form of literature! Utter genius! If only all pundits could compose in this way, more articles would be worth reading. (P.S. totally agree with your comments re Alfie - great bloke, great rugby player).

  • Comment number 12.

    John, I play for a "gay" team. Yes, the goal is an integrated sport and we are integrated into the games structure through playing in a league etc. But teams like the Spartans in Manchester are needed to give guys who stepped away from rugby because they didn't feel comfortable in other clubs, or were put off teams sports as gay youngsters, a means to get into the sport in a supportive environment. We aren't exclusive, we have gay and straight guys, and it doesn't matter, it's the environment of openess that we offer which is the key thing. Not all clubs are like that I'm afraid.

  • Comment number 13.

    Hi John,

    Good article. As the captain of a primarily gay rugby team, can I explain why we exist - it is because many gay men simply wouldn't feel comfortable walking into a 'normal' rugby club and saying "can you teach me how to play rugby?" or "can I play for you?". So we exist to give those people an environment where they can do just that. And the result is that more people are playing and enjoying rugby, which is good for the game and good for the people involved. It isn't becuase we think the sport isn't accepting. Our experience over the last 10 years of league rugby in Manchester proves that it is! Almost all of the 10 or so UK gay rugby teams have several straight players too - friends, family and others for whom we're just the nearest club. We're just part of a community of clubs, all of whom have a happy and accepting culture, but that doesn't leave us without a 'raison d'etre'.

    Peoples perceptions (whether well-founded or not) are a powerful force in determining thier actions. Perhaps that is why there isn't a raft of 'out' gay men in pro clubs up and down the country - I don't think, yet, they can be sure of recieving equal treatment to a straight player of the same quality (particularly early on in thier careers). Maybe it's why Gareth Thomas didn't come out sooner too.

  • Comment number 14.

    I don't believe Gareth is gay as I don't believe the gay bandwidth as it stands is wide enough to cover his situation.
    The term gay is presumably meant to capture the general demeanor of this group which would appear to disqualify him
    My guess is that Gareth has probably got some kind of related obsession associated with the furthest spectrum of homosexuality
    Or maybe we need a new collective word to include him in

  • Comment number 15.

    KGRH - are you saying that Gareth Thomas cannot be gay because he a tough masculine guy? If so, I think you should come and watch one of the 'gay' rugby teams play (or any other team with a gay player - I'm sure there are lots) and reassess whether the 'gay bandwidth' can cover him and whether he so different from us that he would be disqualified from being gay.

    I have many friends, both gay and straight, rugby players and not who are no more or less tought or masculine, so I think that makes a nonsense of your assertion that we need a new word for the group he's in. It also belittles Gareth Thomas's now self-avowed sexuality and his brave decision to make it public.

  • Comment number 16.

    "we are all immigrants anyway". The Oxford English Dictionary specifies that imigrants are those that immigrate and 'immigrate' means to 'come as a permanent resident to a country other than one's native land'. Given I, and bucket loads of other people were born in this country I don't see how I or similar people are immigrants and therefore we are NOT all immigrants. Even if my parents were immigrants I would not be if I were born in this country. Perhaps you meant to say that everyone in this country has foreign ancestry if one follows ones family tree back far enough - but that's not what you said. Not sure the article benefited much by diverting onto immigration anyway - stick to the issue at hand.

  • Comment number 17.

    @ #16 I think what he was getting at is that everybody is the same in that we're all different, e.g. race, sexuality, and that the UK is becoming a more tolerant/accepting country. Quoting a dictionary is a tad pedantic IMHO.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think it says something for rugby that this was the biggest open "secret" for a long long time. Most of the players I know - knew the rumour about Alfie and none of us even cared. The fact that he has come out is a credit to the man. It cannot be easy doing that as a sportsman or any other role model - but I fear even tougher in a "hard man's world". Rugby is not a sport to judge about anything other than a player's talent on the pitch. We would often discuss in the pub whether we thought he was a great player or not - and the fact that he was gay never really came up.

    Whatever you think - you have to admire the man for coming out and ignore the biggots of the world who canot accept him as the same rugby player he was before.

  • Comment number 19.

    Aren't we past the stage where everyone has to say that they don't care whether Gareth Thomas is gay? The very fact that you felt it was worth writing this blog undermines its premise.

  • Comment number 20.

    Yet again John Beattie has provided one of the best blogs the BBC has about rugby. (and no, im not scottish - in fact im just a boring old pom)

    I agree with you John - the game has changed and so has society.

    I congratulate Gareth on coming out. More importantly, I hope future players will feel liberated and free to be able to be open about their sexuality.

    This is what progress is all about - long may it continue.

  • Comment number 21.

    LahdarBheinn. You are right and I am wrong. I mean ancestry as opposed to immigration, but it gets me that there is a faction of the world that thinks that parts of countries only belong to those who happen to have been here for a convenient time and forget that if we go back far enough we all walked here - thereby denying others access. Simplistic I know, but I was painting a picture for diversity.

    Fiveoffthetee. I know what you are saying, I thought it was important though to give what I thought was the reaction I had seen at my rugby club. I take your point though and you are probably right.

    Al 1972 and Matt, I fully respect your love of the game and your wish to play in a welcoming environment, I just hope the day comes when nobody who is gay fears going into a rugby club because of any perceived as forseen reaction.

    HOLIDAYS ARE COMING, HOLIDAYS ARE COMING!

  • Comment number 22.

    Great article, culture and views have changed, there is indeed "life after liebfraumilch" as Oddbins used to say. It's also been a good year for rugby in an ironic way Gareth's treatment and the response and also Matt Stevens mature approach to his chemical dependency showing that we as a sport has moved from neanderthal times.

    My remaining concern is that I actually enjoy reading Blogs written by a self-confessed Chartered Accountant - what's with that Beattie I had you pegged more in the lion tamer category?

  • Comment number 23.

    Gareth Thomas was always a player I admired for his bravery on the rugby pitch, and i maintain my admiration for him being the first man in rugby brave enough to be honest about his homosexuality.

  • Comment number 24.

    So Gareth Thomas has revealed to the world that he is gay, which is a brave move on his part despite whisperings of the fact that have been around for years. As many others have said, gay or straight it doesn't matter, and as Gareth said himself:

    "I don't want to be known as a gay rugby player. I am a rugby player first and foremost. I am a man."

    Quite right Gareth.

    From what I've seen on the BBC 606 message boards most people are giving him their full support. Well, apart from the odd sprinkling of bigots who tend to make such a big deal of this sort of thing in the first place.

    All I would say is please do bear a thought for his ex-wife Jemma who is being forced to witness her private life being dragged through the media. No one seems to have given her much thought and I imagine that Gareth's revelations and the way his relationships have been put under the spotlight really can't be very nice for her.

    I'm not saying that Thomas shouldn't have been honest about his sexuality as it is something he wanted to say, but quite why players have to 'come out' in the first place mystifies me though. As you say John, whether a player is gay or straight doesn't matter one iota, so why is it an issue? I can only deduce it is because being a gay man who plays professional sport (especially such a macho sport like rugby) is a threat to all narrow-minded bigots brimming with testosterone who play rugby, and mistakenly believe that any gay team mate will try to mount them as soon as they strip off to wash their hairy arses in the showers.

    I know we're all talking about this story but we shouldn't be as really it's a bit of a none event. The fact that we are talking about it shows there's a long way to go until there's total acceptance, which is really rather sad.

  • Comment number 25.

    It would be fantastic if the world had completed the whole journey to the land of "so what", but from my experience, rugby hasn't made it that far in all places (note caveat: my experience). The observations elsewhere in BBC's rugby union coverage that refer loosely to "10% of individuals, some in powerful positions" who have negative attitudes toward anything outside of traditional heterosexuality sadly still have relevance to my experience, even merely as a fan and supporter of the game.

    There are gay rugby clubs, and that's a wonderful thing. There are world-class rugby teams, too. So much the better. As I watch one of the best teams in the country here in Dallas, TX, in the past (fortunately less so nowadays), I have heard many derogatory comments about "the gay rugby club". And certainly, there are players who could potentially play great football at all levels who are emotionally turned away from the game, whether by their own fears or by words spoken by other players.

    I think it is indeed a wonderful and necessary thing that exemplary rugby players come out and put that old rot behind the sport so that young players can feel emotionally secure playing the game and knowing that their teammates will support them fully throughout the course of their careers both on and off the pitch.

  • Comment number 26.

    "Gareth Thomas is gay; so what!"

    I'm glad our BBC columnist has taken this view. Personally though I have lost a little bit of respect for GT; not for being gay, but for quite frankly going on about it. There is hardly a gay stereotype in sport and there is no need for a saviour or a 'Bono-figure' for homosexuals in rugby/any sport. (it's almost as though he was expecting a bigger response to coming out!) I have played rugby with a gay man before and it's no different to playing with a straight XV.

  • Comment number 27.

    What's all the fuss about - this isn't a big issue
    Lets get away from making publicity about a small minority and start commenting about rugby again, so that the majority cam enjoy it.

    Don't let Thomas make this an issue - it isn't - let's ignore him

    Sort out the eye gougers - that's a real issue

  • Comment number 28.

    For those who are saying that what he did was unnecessary, maybe he wanted to be honest. And acceptance of this issue unfortunately isn't always presumed.

  • Comment number 29.

    I'd just like to add that I have just received the England replica rugby shirt for Christmas. That also appears to be gay (and not in a good way). What on earth is all this about? It's like a ballroom shirt.

  • Comment number 30.

    MR T, what has upset you about this England jersey? The modern jerseys are tight so that nobody can drag you down in a tackle. I think the All Blacks started this.

    JB

  • Comment number 31.

    SO WHAT-YOU SURE?

    I'm not sure if the 'so what' view of gay rugby players coming out is more common among heterosexual men but I dont think its a 'so what' who cares issue at all.

    Imagine the hundreds perhaps thousands of closeted player players in other countries and other sports who probably don't have the same positive response as Gareth did. Thats the difference and we seem to take it for granted.

    Having a gay player in a macho sports such as Gareth is somewhat an eye opener for those closeted players who might be depressed, lonely and isolated inside by an expectation that doesn't suit or exist for them , I tell you , its not a good feeling when you have to fake almost everything you do in a rugby team especially during social bondings with a bunch of guys you will know probably know for the rest of your life, from who you date, who you have sex with to what qualities you find in a person and we know any talk about sex and chicks is a popular topic amongst men in sports, so imagine how tiresome it would be to fake your interest in females and 'to stay within the group' when you obviously aren't attracted to females.

    Guys stay closeted because they have no idea how others around them will respond. Yes hetero men may make gay jokes and games in general but when they actually know someone in person or someone close to them whose openly gay or who has comeout, Im sure you will see a difference in their way of thinking or attitude-this might be either positive or negative- which is what most closeted players fear-they don't know what to expect and the repercussions of putting yourself out there. Its an unknown fate.

    Furthermore how often do men come out publicly in any sports and catch the attention of the media?-almost nil. Theses closeted player feel isolated and dont feel comfortable enough to come out because they don't know enough in terms of what happens when you come out in sports and having little or unknown public media attention on this issue in sports just adds to their confusion and inability to be honest to themselves. The media somewhat acts as their vehicle of knowledge on gay issues because obviously a closeted person in any rugby code wouldn't go ask someone else in person.

    So, imagine what is was like for the first female to take up boxing professionally when men dissaproved it, or an Islamic women taking up sports openly in public for the first time...its draws similarities not only breaking barriers and stereotypes or discovering their unknown fates, but it also inspires others who may feel lonley, confused and depressed to have some hope in being honest to themselves and those around them and feel that they are aren't the only person of their kind (in this case-a masculine gay man): out there especially in sports where the stereotype is still moulded to be a heterosexual 'masculine' domain.

    So as a closeted rugby player, it isnt as rosey as other people put it especially coming from hetero people or even other gay people who dont have the pressure of being a professional sportsmen yet alone in sports where thousands of other kids and families look up to you with an expectation.

    As for the 'who cares it hes gay" issue-its more to do with having a feeling of belonging by looking up to some one whose in the same boat and who you thought would never exist in the public eye. We all look for similarities as individuals to gain a sense of belonging.

    I guess people wont understand or appreciate this until they put on my shoes or the shoes of other closeted players in sports perceived to be the epitome of masculinity aka, rugby, league, Gridiron, wrestling, boxing etc. where an image and expectation is strongly reinforced.

    There is a difference between coming out in a small country town or village, in sports, in a non English speaking country or in Urban areas where there is a lot a secular cultures. The expectations and responses will be different yet many seem to think its all same. I just hope people can realize this.





  • Comment number 32.

    zcdsc - I hope you haven't been insulted by the article which I hope was in support with Gareth. I do understand your point and I hope that Gareth's actions do make it more likely that both sides are tolerant and that being gay is not seen as a major issue.

  • Comment number 33.

    hey John -no was not insulted by your article. I just wanted to add my 2 cents :) coming from someone who would be in Gareth's position.

  • Comment number 34.

    Hey John, nice to be involved interactively so to speak. Some of the blogs are are how you say? One sided. I commend you again on a great article and support the sentiment you have illustrated.

    The England replica rugby shirt 2009/10 appears to be made of tinsel, spangles and fairy dust. I'd post a pic to show the full horror but the BBC aren't ready for that yet. I'm not sure about the skin tight properties of the real shirt which is probably significantly better built, but the replica is straight from either Liberace or soccer hell. It's as light as a feather but it's not a rugby shirt, or not as I recognise them. I'm sure an 8 year old lass could take a chunk out of this one.

    Shirt design has obviously moved on but even the new designs make Steve Thompson (welcome back big lad) look like a, well fat bloke in a tight shirt. Whilst the last ounce of performance is sought the aesthetic and practical are left behind. No one goes skiing for fun dressed like Chemmy Alcott do they?

    All previous replicas I have owned be it England, Barbarians or even god forbid Welsh shirts given by my mental Welsh relatives (Happy Christmas in Blaina you mentals!) trying to claim me for their own have had a decent cotton content. This one appears to have been designed and made by Tinkerbell in the land of the elves. It's an absolute wendyballing disgrace. I've worn it for two days and I feel somewhat dirty having done so and not in a good way.

    I suggest you seek one out and touch it with your own hands to feel the travesty that is the replica kit. It's nearly as crap as that Scottish one they wore against the All Blacks in this game.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/7009666.stm

    Maybe I'm just getting old but when a man can identify with Gareth Thomas who is openly Welsh than the designer of his teams national kit the world has gone quite mad.

  • Comment number 35.

    I woke up, first thing i see on the tele is that one of the greatest players, which i so highly respect says broadcasts he's gay. I was pretty dissapointed at first to be honest. It has taken me a while to come over the fact that it's actually true. Im completely over it now and now respect his choice to come in the clear, i am sure it must be a relieving thing to do. The guy had so much talent, i think we should all respect him for that trait, and not for what he does in his personal life.

  • Comment number 36.

    zcdac - good, hope all goes well and it was in support of Gareth.

    Mr T - I need to buy myself one of them England strips. What the ancestors might say I don't know but I am away on line now to have a look at one. At this time of year it is not advisable to wear anything tight. It will take a few runs to get back to a semblance of shape.

  • Comment number 37.

    So why are you lot making such a fuss? So what he came out as gay!
    Brilliant reason to have a big disscussion. He does what he does, and you all seem to "accept" this. So why are you all talking about it and making such a fuss of it?
    I personally dont think he should have come out publically, what was the point? Raise awareness? Crap! You dont see any of them coming forward and saying im hetrosexual, would you write a big column about that? They're there to play rugby, at the end of the day and noone has been a better servent to Wales, than Gareth Thomas. Noone should care whether you are homosexual or not and apparently nobody does? So why bother ...

  • Comment number 38.

    To quote Obama; "The world has changed, and we must change with it." How appropriate for a time like this. The only shame is that many years down the road, people are going to remember Gareth Thomas not as the devastating rugby player who played for Wales, but for being gay. As the title said, why the hell do I give a shoe if Gareth Thomas is gay or not? That's like me saying that I had hamburger for dinner last night; completely useless and irrelevant information! Bring on the rugby!

  • Comment number 39.

    Again, another great blog. Who cares if a player is gay? Gareth Thomas is a legend in the game regardless of his sexuality. I know it is the worse kept secret in Welsh Rugby but it doesn't matter. It does not matter what your sexuality, race, gender, beliefs etc that someone has, what matters the most, and I hope a lot of people agree, that these are not reasons why people are not playing Rugby Union. It is a fantastic sport and it should be open to ANYONE that wishes to play Rugby Union.

  • Comment number 40.

    "Whether we like it or not, much of the world views rugby as a boorish, macho, song-singing, blinkered, posh man's game. Which it is not." Much of the UK world, may do so (though I doubt that, too), but, in my experience in Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, only bits of that description apply, and it's different in each area.
    Shocked? Yes, I was. Not that there are gay rugby players (I've played with some), but that someone emerged of GTs accomplishments against the institutional imagery and fear he must have faced. I hope "gay rugby" dries up and blows away so that men/women so inclined don't have to "go there" to get in a good match or a season . . .or a career.

  • Comment number 41.

    Lance, well said.

  • Comment number 42.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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