by Sabine Hannakampf
US professional rugby player Devin Ibañez shared on Instagram that he is gay – he is the first US-american rugby player to take this step during his active career.
“As 2020 comes to a close I took the time to reflect on my life and what aspects I could control and make positive changes to that would impact my day to day life and happiness.”,
wrote US professional rugby player Devin Ibañez on 30 December on the specially created Instagram account “thatgayrugger” (“that gay rugby guy”). It had become clear to him that
“… living my life with more transparency and openly celebrating who I love would have an immediate positive impact on me and those I care about. So I want to start 2021 by celebrating the love of my life and my partner @ferguswade who has been with me through the highs and the (very) lows of the last three years.”
Rugby and homosexuality
Coming out makes Ibañez the first active player in United States Major League Rugby (USMLR), the governing body of all professional rugby league clubs in North America, to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality.
Although there are over 75 queer rugby teams worldwide, professional rugby players have long adhered to the premise that a homosexual orientation has no place in rugby. Understandable, since the extremely tough contact sport conveys an almost archaic ideal of masculinity. Homophobic insults on the pitch are ubiquitous in rugby culture and, in the eyes of many fans, but also many players, are simply part of the game. This is confirmed by the results of a study commissioned by the English rugby club Harlequin FC and published at the beginning of 2020.
69 percent of the rugby players surveyed reported hearing homophobic slurs from their teammates. 42 per cent reported using homophobic slurs themselves to make others laugh or to fit in with the team.
For Ibañez, the fear of not being accepted on the team or having his career destroyed led him to delay coming out. He writes that he “met some incredibly talented LGBTQ rugby players” but that “many of them were excluded from playing at a high level simply because they were gay”.
But even in rugby, it seems a new age is slowly dawning. In 2020, two rugby players had their public coming out. Australian Dan Palmer came out as homosexual in October after the end of his active career. In September, the young British rugby player Levi Davis, who is still at the very beginning of his professional career, came out as bisexual.
At some point, it was also clear to Devin Ibañez that no amount of success could justify jeopardising relationships or making himself a target on the pitch. He realised that what he had long considered a shadow could also serve as a beacon.
“So I decided to embrace what I was once ashamed of and be myself, proud and unashamed.”
Ibañez told the online portal Outsports that the support he received from everyone after coming out was overwhelming and wonderful.
“I’ve even received some messages from players who played on the same teams as me, telling me a bit of their own stories. And that’s what I really want to do. To connect with those who have had similar experiences and hopefully inspire those who are going through the same things.”
The New England Free Jacks association, for whom Ibañez had played in 2019, also commented positively on the outing.
“The @nefreejacks are proud to support Devin, who continues to be a phenomenal player and a great role model for Free Jacks everywhere.”
Moving to England for the sake of love
Devin Ibañez has been dating his boyfriend Fergus Wade since 2017. The two met when Devin was playing on the Massachusetts university union rugby team while Fergus Wade was an exchange student at Harvard University researching the effects of sleep deprivation on fruit flies.
Fergus, who describes himself as a “cheerleader for @thatgayrugger”, is from England. Ibañez therefore hopes to find an association in England to be closer to his partner.
- rugby-3718779_1280: By Paul Want / Pixabay / CC0
- Danpalmer: By: John Curtin School of Medical Research / Twitter
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