Gay rugby pro comes out of retirement to tackle ‘thinly-veiled homophobia’ in sport
Gay rugby player Keegan Hirst is ending his retirement after seven members of the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles staged a boycott over an LGBTQ+ Pride jersey.
Keegan last played as a prop for Halifax in the Betfred Championship, retiring in October 2020.
But on Monday (1 August), he announced he will return to the sport, joining the Batley Bulldogs.
“COVID, added to my own personal circumstances, made me lost tough with some of the things I hold dearest to me – friends and rugby league,” he said in a statement released by Sky Sports News.
Hirst, who became the first British professional rugby league footballer to come out as gay in 2015, said his return to the sport was partly inspired by seven members of Manly, a Sydney-based team, deciding they would rather forgo a match than wear a top in the colours of the rainbow in July.
“After the recent thinly-veiled homophobia over a rainbow shirt I thought: ‘How can I help with visibility and inclusion?’” Hirst continued.
“By lacing up my boots, putting on a playing shirt and getting back out there, that’s how.
“I still have plenty of games in me and am looking forward to help Batley continue their incredible season as they ready for their playoff campaign.”
A bitter row broke out in rugby after seven Manly players refused to wear jerseys that celebrated inclusiveness, instead forgoing a match against the Sydney Roosters at Brooksvale Oval.
The game went ahead without Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Hamumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofa Sipley.
Manly players had been asked to wear the jersey as part of the club’s “Everyone in League” campaign, said coach Des Hasler.
Hasler later apologised on behalf of the club for the “mishandled” shirt launch, adding that the seven players did not wear the jerseys “as it conflicts with their cultural and religious beliefs”.
“And I am concerned for their welfare,” he said at a press conference. “Their spirituality is a central part of their wellbeing. The club had made an error from which we will learn.”
To Hirst, this was unacceptable.
“Hey @SeaEagles, I’d be honoured to wear your Pride shirt,” he tweeted at the time. “As should all your players. Shame on the ones who aren’t.”
Hitting back against the wave of homophobic his tweets were met with, Hirst told one troll: “Representation matters. What does it mean to gay kids who want to play rugby? They’ve just been shown that they wouldn’t be accepted by their peers.
“Which the sport isn’t as inclusive as it likes to think it is. Symbolism matters. If it didn’t, those players wouldn’t care.”