Rugby Player Sam Needs: We Need to Speak Up

By: Sam Needs

I’m one of six kids, five boys and one girl. One day, I was home nursing a broken ankle, and my brother came in and said that he wanted to tell me something. When he told me he was gay, I responded with “Cool, that’s awesome, you wanna play some video games?”  It didn’t phase me one bit, or require any questioning. I thought that it must have taken so much courage for him be honest with himself. He’s still the same brother that I shared a room with for 15 years, and I’ve never looked at him any differently than any of my other 5 siblings.
My brother had a hard time as at out gay athlete. Soccer was his passion and outlet, but it became tainted when he had to deal with players calling him derogatory names instead of supporting him. He took some time off before joining the Sydney gay men’s football club, the Sydney Rangers, where everyone who walked on that field was committed to respecting every other player out there.

sam needs speak up
Seeing what he went through made me want to take a stand myself, as a professional rugby player. I think that equality in sport is about creating an environment where athletes, coaches or anyone in their organization can feel comfortable being themselves without the fear of being judged. All people, LGBTIQ+ or straight, should be treated the same whether they’re a player or coach, staff or volunteer, match official or crowd member, professional or amateur. Sexual orientation doesn’t affect a person’s ability to do their job.Rugby is a very male dominated sport, despite the rapid growth of women’s rugby around the world. Having been in both amateur and professional rugby environments over the last 15 years, the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTIQ+ athletes or coaches has undeniably improved. There is, however, still an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed, and that is the use of homophobic slurs whether in the locker room, or in competition. Although generally not used in their literal sense of the word, they’re nevertheless being said in a way that depicts that person as someone of lesser value.

sam needs speak up
This needs to change. How can LGBTIQ+ players or staff build confidence in their peers, if they’re hearing hateful comments? Is that encouraging them to be true to themselves, or to stay hidden for fear of being judged by the people they admire? To quote Macklemore: “‘Man that’s gay’ gets dropped on the daily, we’ve become so numb to what we’re saying.” It often goes along the same route of ‘casual racism,’ which some seem to think is acceptable if said in a joking way. But it’s not.My brother has been a competitive athlete his whole life, and is now working in the coaching side of elite sport. His competitiveness and skill set as a player, and his knowledge as a coach, has absolutely nothing to do with his sexual orientation. Athletes like him are often cornered into thinking they can only compete or play in an all-gay competition out of fear of not being accepted by ‘straight’ sporting clubs. Straight athletes shouldn’t flatter themselves by thinking every LGBTIQ+ teammate will try and make a move on them. They’re there to play the sport they love, just like you are.

Athlete Ally aims to create equality in sport for all. It starts with us as individuals – we need to speak up. The people involved with your sport, whatever their capacity, share the same love and passion as you do for that sport. They’re not asking for you to share the same sexual orientations as them, but to be treated with the same respect as you would want to be treated. The bonds created through sport go much deeper than the shallowness of a person’s opinion on sexual orientation. Players, coaches, staff, volunteers, officials and members of the crowd all need to help ensure that sport is welcoming for everyone.

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