Sam Stanley says rugby is ‘encouraging’ and ‘protective’ of gay players

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The first English professional rugby union player to come out as gay has praised the sport as “open-minded” and “supportive”.

Sam Stanley publicly came out as gay last month.

The former Saracens back – who is now playing for the Ealing Trailfinders – said at the time that he knew he was gay from a young age.

He said: “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.”

He has now opened up about the reaction he has received from fellow rugby professionals – praising the sport’s “open-minded” and “encouraging” approach to LGBT players.

“What I found especially is that rugby players are a lot more open minded than I thought,” he told QX.

“I messaged a load of my college mates who I trained with and they all replied with their support. And that meant a lot to me.

Sam Stanley says rugby is ‘encouraging’ and ‘protective’ of gay players

“They’re all just team mates but you see them as quite good friends as you see a lot of them.”

“I think the game is getting a lot better – it’s a lot better than imagined.”

Stanley – who likes to post naked photos of himself singing and playing a guitar – also praised fellow out play Keegan Hirst, who he credited as his inspiration.

“He had a huge influence on mine. I saw the reaction that he got and I was like ‘how encouraging is that’.

“But it took me a few weeks. I think I’ve been happy with myself for a while now.”

He also drew comparisons between his sport and football – which is now one of the few sports to have no actively, out gay players.

“Football stadiums – having been to games in the past – they can be hostile environments.

“I personally didn’t take the crowd and the fans into consideration. I just thought this is the best thing for me to do.

“Maybe within football, because racism is still a big thing, maybe they put homophobia on the same sort of figure – if they see a gay player that’s a great target for fans to get into them about and put them off their game.”

Sam Stanley says rugby is ‘encouraging’ and ‘protective’ of gay players

However, he encouraged any football players that may be considering coming out to take the leap, as they will find more support than homophobia in both fans and fellow team mates.

“I’m sure if there was a footballer who came out they’ll get so much support it will be unbelievable. It’s juts waiting for that person to take that step.”

He also praised his current team who he says have been immensely supportive.

“Ealing Trailfinders have said that if I have any trouble with the crowd or anything it will be dealt with by them.

“So that’s really encouraging, just seeing how Ealing will deal with it, even before I’ve played for them.”

Hirst, 27, became one of the first players in his sport to open up about his sexuality – and his battle with the “macho” image of Rugby League – in a revealing interview with the the Sunday Mirror.

Cross-code international Gareth Thomas previously was the only out gay player as he came out whilst playing for rugby union side Cardiff Blues.