ENGLAND Sevens international Sam Stanley has become the first English professional rugby union player to publicly come out as gay.
The 23-year-old former Saracens back played in five Sevens World Series tournaments for England and belongs to one of the sport’s most famous families.
He is the nephew of New Zealand’s 1987 World Cup-winning centre Joe Stanley, while his brother Mike is in Samoa’s squad for the upcoming World Cup and cousins Winston and Benson are on the books of Harlequins and Clermont Auvergne, respectively.
Sam Stanley, who is playing for Ealing Trailfinders in the Championship this season, said in the Sunday Times: “I was 10 or 11 when I realised I was different to my friends.
“I didn’t want to accept it, I felt that being different wasn’t right. I had a girlfriend and I was thinking that, like some people say, maybe it is a phase.”
Stanley’s decision to make his sexuality public comes after Batley Bulldogs prop Keegan Hirst last month became the first rugby league player to openly come out as gay.
Cross-code international Gareth Thomas was previously the only openly homosexual rugby player after he came out while playing for rugby union side Cardiff Blues in 2009.
Thomas, who captained Wales and the British and Irish Lions, went on to play for league side Crusaders before retiring, but Hirst was the first player to come out publicly while playing the 13-man game.
Also, leading referee Nigel Owens, who is due to officiate at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, came out in 2007.
Stanley added: “Millions of people are in the situation, even people who have been in Laurence’s [his partner] situation and they are still married but are gay. They cannot accept it themselves.
“It is going to be an issue until more people and athletes come out, until it is not an issue at all. It might take years but hopefully lots of people will find the courage.”