Bashed in the street, attacked by fans and shunned by teammates: Ian Roberts opens up on the homophobia he faced after becoming the first rugby league star in the world to come out as gay
- The former Sydney and Manly front rower told the world he was gay in 1995
- Shortly after, he was knocked out by two thugs at Sydney Harbour and abused
- Roberts, now 55 and in a relationship with a school teacher, said it changed him
Pictured: Former NRL player Ian Roberts
NRL star Ian Roberts has opened up about the horrific abuse and homophobia he dealt with after becoming the first rugby league player in the world to come out as gay.
The former South Sydney and Manly front rower told the world he was gay in 1995 in a landmark announcement that shocked Australia.
Shortly afterwards he was gazing at the Sydney Harbour Bridge from between the wharves at Circular Quay when he was knocked out by two thugs.
His limp 6’5″ body fell to the ground and, according to an elderly woman who tried to help, he was dragged, kicked and abused while unconscious on the concrete.
Roberts, now 55, told the Daily Telegraph on Thursday: ‘That moment changed me’.
After the ill-fated trip to Sydney Harbour, he was playing against St George at Jubilee Oval in Kogarah when a fan punched him in the face and called him a ‘f***ot’.
Pictured: Former rugby league player Ian Roberts on April 4, 1995 – the year he came out as gay
Pictured: Ian Roberts playing for the Cowboys during a NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the North Queensland Cowboys held at Bruce Stadium May 17, 1998
The Sea Eagles star wrestled the culprit to the ground before security intervened and they were charged with assault.
He also recalled a time during an interstate trip where his roommate – a well known player who Roberts would not identify – said he felt ‘uncomfortable’ sharing a room because ‘Ian is a f***ot’.
‘When someone viciously calls you a “f***ing f***ot”, that cuts to the bone because that’s meant to dehumanise you,’ Roberts told the publication.
‘It would do my head in when people were abusive on the street.’
While Roberts officially came out in 1995, he said the news came as no surprise to anyone in the industry.
Pictured: Ian Roberts (right) with his long-term partner Daniel (left), who is a school teacher
‘It was the worst kept secret in ruby league. Even when I was at Souths, everyone knew I was gay,’ he said.
The player said he wanted to come out in 1990 when he left South Sydney for Manly, but when he saw the way the press treated English soccer player Justin Fashanu, he reconsidered.
Fashanu consequently lost his place in the Premiership League and took his own life in 1998.
It wasn’t until he was on a tour to England that his sexual preference ‘kind of came out’.
‘There was a new gay magazine at the time and I did other magazine interviews. I remember thinking: “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.
Pictured: Ex Rugby league player and Actor Ian Roberts and Ben Prideaux attend the opening night of ‘The Trocks’ at the State Theatre on October 5, 2005 in Sydney
Pictured: Former NRL player Ian Roberts is seen taking part in the 38th annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, in Sydney, March 5, 2016
‘I used to feel for my mum and dad at games because people would scream s**t out – I was worried they had to hear that but there are certain things you can’t protect your family from.’
He added that he was never ashamed of saying that he was same-sex attracted.
Roberts has been in a relationship with a school teacher named Daniel for 15 years, and says it would be ‘naive’ to think there were not players competing now who are homosexual.
His advice to young gay players was to ‘make sure you feel comfortable’.
Roberts had a 13-year career that saw him play for the Souths, Manly, North Queensland, City, NSW, Australia and Wigan in England.
When he was 21, coach Jack Gibson called him the ‘best front rower in the game’.