Happy Birthday to Ian Roberts, born in London, England on July 31, 1965. The rugby league player came out as gay in the October 9, 1995 issue of New Weekly. The cover blurb: ‘League Legend: meet the man I love’.
The toughest man in rugby league
Rumours about the sexuality of the sporting hero known as ‘the toughest man in rugby league’ circulated for months before. Earlier in the year, he posed naked for gay magazine (not only) Blue, sending the rumour mill into overdrive.
Debbie Spillane wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that the photo shoot had everyone tapdancing around the question ‘What does it mean?’
“Fans are bemused, bewildered or just plain curious. Officials are extremely busy looking the other way. The gay community and its supporters are chuffed. And all over the place, you can hear the sound of macho hackles being raised and current affairs show cheque books being rustled.”
The Telegraph Mirror described the footballer as a ‘renowned inner-city nightclubber’ who ‘does not care about the derision he receives for mixing in this circle’.
They were right about Ian Roberts’ lack of concern.
“Being part of a different group, being labelled as an outsider because you live your life in a different way from the ‘norm’ has put me in a position to look at things laterally.”
But not everyone approved.
Sports commentator and renowned homophobe Rex Mossop couldn’t wait to whine about the nude pics.
“I’m appalled by it and think it’s totally unnecessary. I realise he has a great physique. Certainly, it would warrant a show with a costume on, but who needs to have the bare essentials, as I said once many years ago, shoved down other people’s throats?”
Of course, in 2022, bigots continue to equate queer visibility with oral rape. So much for the mass extinction of dinosaurs. Cockroaches and bigots will outlive us all. Though not Rex Mossop who escaped this life and the increasing encroachment of male genitalia on western civilisation in 2011.
Gay footballers nothing new
One commentator in the Sydney Morning Herald noted that although it took guts to come out, a gay footballer was nothing new.
“Old timers will tell you of a famous Test and Kangaroo player of the 1920s who was gay and lived with the same male partner for years.”
But journalist and former Wallabies player Peter FitzSimons took issue with the ‘so what?’ response.
“I’ll tell you so what. So what is that in all the tackle codes of football worldwide, in all history there has never been an openly gay footballer, let alone one who is as much a byword for toughness as Roberts.”
Ian Roberts in 2022
Ian Roberts went on to become a staunch advocate and generous fundraiser for his community.
On Thursday night, he watched his former team, the Manly Sea Eagles, run onto the playing field wearing Pride jerseys.
Earlier in the week, he addressed the controversy over some players refusing to wear the jerseys.
“I try to see it from all perspectives but this breaks my heart.
“It’s sad and uncomfortable. As an older gay man, this isn’t unfamiliar. I did wonder whether there would be any religious pushback. That’s why I think the NRL has never had a Pride round.
“I can promise you every young kid on the northern beaches who is dealing with their sexuality would have heard about this.”
Thankfully, there is something else those kids will hear about. They will hear about Ian Roberts, an out, loud and proud gay man whose bravery and intelligence continue to bless his community.
Happy Birthday, Ian Roberts.
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