Almanac Rugby League – The courageous journey of Ian Roberts (first published in The Guardian Australia).

Ian Roberts was a trailblazer in Australian Rugby League in more ways than one. Powerful, agile and fast, he redefined the role of a forward from plodding workhorse to gazelle-on-angry-pills. The phrase crash through or crash may very well have been coined after watching Ian Roberts do his thing on the field.

Ian Roberts was also a trailblazer in League by becoming the code’s first openly gay player.

In another fantastic read from The Guardian Australia, Almanacker Patrick Skene profiles Roberts and shows how a tough kid from Sydney’s hard-edged southern suburbs lived a double-life for almost as long as he could remember, before deciding the truth would set not just himself, but so many others, free.

Roberts… knew bullies understood force and fought a constant battle within, wanting to fight anyone that disrespected him. Fighting, he says, “blocked out the anger and confusion and I took my self loathing out on anyone that crossed me”.

Fighting proved he wasn’t weak and provided him the safe refuge of the tough league stereotype. Stereotypes mean less thinking and for the league community, surrounded by a deep emotional moat, there was no way he could be tough and gay.

Roberts was quoted in an interview in the Mirror newspaper: “If someone smashes me in the mouth I’ll smack them back. As soon as they see you flinch a bit they’ve got you. You can’t afford to take a backward step.” The South Sydney faithful lapped it up, recognising fighting DNA in their new hero.

Although Roberts’s sexual identity was the worst kept secret in rugby league, he was still under intense pressure to put the final nail in the coffin and come out publicly. For the gay community, sexuality was a matter of life and death. Gay bashings and killings were rife across Sydney, creating a siege mentality. Many in the community viewed Roberts’s coming out as a way to save lives, particularly with high rates of gay teen suicide blamed on a lack of positive role models. There were threats to be “outed”, as a footballer offered a unique bridge to the mainstream. Roberts was a “high value prisoner” for the community – for them silence was complicity and his privacy was a small price to pay.

To read Patrick’s profile of Ian Roberts in full CLICK HERE.



About Patrick Skene

An Epicurean Celt interested in Sport, Culture & History.

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