Keegan Hirst, the first British professional rugby league player to come out as gay, announced he is coming out of retirement in the wake of the Manly 7 Pride jersey boycott.
The 34-year-old former Halifax player said he was joining Batley Bulldogs. Hirst had come out in 2015 and in October 2020 announced his retirement.
Hirst will be eligible to play in the next season. “Profile has been updated. No longer an ‘ex’ rugby player,” Hirst posted on Twitter.
Homophobia Over A Rainbow Shirt
Hirst said his decision to come out of retirement was aimed at promoting inclusion in sport in the background of the controversy surrounding the Sydney Sea Eagles’ decision to wear Pride jerseys.
“Covid added to my own personal circumstances which made me lose touch with some of the things that I hold dearest to me; friends and rugby league,” Hirst said in a statement released by SkySports.
“After the recent thinly-veiled homophobia over a rainbow shirt, I thought how can I help with visibility and inclusion? By lacing up my boots, putting on a playing shirt and getting back out there, that’s how I help with visibility and inclusion,” said Hirst, adding, “I still have plenty of games in me and I’m looking forward to helping Batley continue their incredible season.”
Manly 7 Boycott Pride Jersey
Seven Manly players Josh Aloiai, Jason Saab, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Schuster, Haumole Olakau’atu, Tolutau Koula and Toafofoa Sipley had said they would sit out the game against the Sydney Roosters over the Sea Eagles’ decision to wear the gay Pride jersey to promote diversity and inclusivity. The players cited their “religious and cultural beliefs” for their decision.
Despite the team management assurance that the players had softened their stand, the players were reported to be sticking to their boycott.
Hirst called out the Manly 7 on social media. “Hey Sea Eagles, I’d be honoured to wear your Pride shirt. As should all your players. Shame on the ones who aren’t,” Hirst posted on Twitter. “No player in the history of professional rugby league has refused to wear a shirt because of what’s on it. The sponsors, the colours, the logos. Regardless of what they stand for. This has nothing to do with the shirt and everything to do with homophobia.”
Symbolism Matters, says Hirst
Hirst also had some thoughts on what goes on in changing rooms. “The ironic thing about the Sea Eagles Pride/player boycott saga is that I know what goes on in RL changing rooms. And a lot of it would be seen as being MUCH “gayer” than a rainbow on a jersey,” he said.
The rugby player also responded to comments by social media users. In response to a Twitter comment about everyone being equal, Hirst said: “I wish that were the case. Unfortunately people are not treated equally. Gay people are frequently ostracised, ridiculed, beaten and even killed simply for being gay. That doesn’t happen because you’re straight. Not once. That is just the sad truth.”
Hirst also had a message about diversity and representation in sport. “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.”
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